By Harshal Bhosale, Managing Editor
The era of alternative fuel vehicles is ever expanding, today more so than ever. Tesla, GM and many other upcoming manufacturers have turned the game on top of its head, demonstrating that battery powered electric vehicles do have a commercially viable future.
Another long-standing player in the field has been Honda, with its fleet of battery powered and fuel cell vehicles. This story is of the humble Clarity sedan, showcased this year at the NAIAS 2018 in Detroit.
The Clarity started out in 2005 as the FCX concept at the Tokyo motor show, later announced as a production model at the 2006 Detroit auto show as the FCX Clarity. A derivative of this car, the new 2018 Clarity sedan comes in three guises – a battery only PHEV, a petrol-electric HEV, and a fuel cell version (FCV – fuel cell vehicle). The reasoning is clear – to tap into each of the emerging alternative fuel markets, maintaining a presence in each in case any of the segments see a surge in sales.
And the cars, at least on paper, seem well-equipped. Each is identical in terms of cabin interiors and exterior (including the chassis/structural design), but differs only in the powerplant. The PHEV and the Fuel Cell versions are lease-only, whereas the HEV is available for standard purchase. Honda has truly done a good job on the packaging of powertrains (except in one instance), and has offered all industry-standard features on this range.
But here’s the thing – by offering three versions of this vehicle with wildly varying powerplants, Honda is placing its bets on too many horses at once.
To understand why this multi-pronged approach from Honda is troublesome, one needs to only look at the BEV version of the Clarity sedan presented at the NAIAS. Due to having a common underlying architecture, the packaging of the batteries was probably not achieved in the most optimal way (as Tesla does with their “skateboard” underbody battery design), leading to a massive gaping hole prominently visible when this writer popped the hood of the Honda. While a minor design factor, what this represents is sub-optimal design on a product that is being launched in one of the largest automotive markets. This can be avoided by single-handedly pursuing optimum BEV architectures.
The future of gasoline powered cars is surely bleak, so manufacturers should really be putting all their bets on BEVs (Battery-electric vehicles). Fuel cell vehicles are still up for debate, but they too will sooner or later fizzle out as battery technology for BEVs improves. Already, only three manufacturers offer FCVs in North America – Hyundai (Tucson SUV), Toyota (Mirai) and Honda (Clarity), that too on a lease-only basis.
Effectively, the near future is going to boil down to a debate between two types of cars – battery operated (BEVs), or fuel cell (FCVs). Probably the former more so than the latter.
What Honda needs to do is quite simply, inject some “clarity” with the direction it wishes to take with their Clarity.