Honda unveiled the FCX Clarity fuel cell vehicle at the 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show, and an announced that a limited number of southern Californians will have the opportunity to lease one in the next few years. This is the first time a customer can obtain a fuel cell car directly from a retail dealer. The company is also showing progress with the creation of a hydrogen home fueling station.

A lease on the Honda FCX Clarity will cost $600 per month, including service, maintenance, and collision insurance. The term on the lease will be three-years.

In terms of appearances, the futuristic four-door Clarity will closely resemble the FCX concept, aside from some minor front-end design modifications. The Clarity will be powered by a hydrogen fuel cell stack—running along the car’s center tunnel between the front seats—that generates electricity but produces zero exhaust emissions at the tailpipe. Functional improvements in the FCX Clarity over the previous concept model include a 20 percent increase in fuel economy, a 30 percent increase in vehicle range to 270 miles, and an advanced new lithium-ion battery pack that is 40 percent lighter and 50 percent smaller.

Okay, But Where Do You Get the Hydrogen?

Honda has not yet disclosed the production volume for this vehicle, but some industry observers expect Honda to produce about 1,000 units. Customers will be able to drop off their vehicles at a Honda dealership for service, and Honda will then transport the vehicles to a dedicated service facility. The company will need to carefully select customers, based on their proximity to the limited number of hydrogen refueling stations. The lack of infrastructure to produce, distribute and sell hydrogen fuel is among the major obstacles to the adoption of fuel cell vehicles.

This week, Honda also announced progress with a home-based hydrogen production system—called the HES IV—that would remove a consumer’s need to find hydrogen fuel or visit a gas station. The company installed such a system at its headquarters in Torrance, Calif. The system was created by Honda and Plug Power Inc., a provider of on-site energy solutions. “Before fuel cell vehicles can have any significant market penetration, there will need to be a viable solution to the inevitable refueling question,” said Mark Sperry, chief marketing officer at Plug Power. “The Home Energy Station provides the means for vehicle owners to produce onsite hydrogen, as well as heat and power, in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.”

Seventy percent smaller than the first generation version, the HES IV makes use of a home’s existing natural gas supply in order to produce hydrogen for vehicles, as well as providing heat and electricity for the residence. Honda claims that using the HES IV to heat a home and fuel an FCX Clarity would reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 30 percent, compared to the conventional usage of grid-supplied electricity and gas-powered automobiles. Energy costs would also be lowered by an estimated 50 percent.

Availability of the in-home system is not expected for another seven to ten years.