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Honda taps star power to boost fuel cell car

Posted by: Ian Rowley on June 16, 2008

I wrote an article recently which alluded to Honda’s irritation at the way Prius-powered Toyota established itself as a green leader even though Honda launched the Insight, its first hybrid, earlier in the U.S.

It doesn’t look like Honda will make the same mistakes with its market leading fuel cell vehicles. I just got back from the launch of its latest fuel cell car, the FCX Clarity, at a ceremony in Japan’s Tochigi prefecture. Honda will now begin leasing the stylish looking car, which also has an impressive range of 280 miles, in the U.S. in small numbers and in Japan from later this year.

Even if mass production is way off, Honda looks determined to use the Clarity to enhance its green credentials. Already used in Honda commercials, Honda bussed two loads of reporters to the event and laid on test drives, presentations and a tour of the factory that’s building the stylish looking cars. But perhaps the biggest sign that Honda has learned from Toyota’s marketers is the identities the Clarity’s first customers. Among them are Jamie Lee Curtis and her partner Christopher Guest, Canadian actress Laura Harris and Oscar winning Little Miss Sunshine producer Ron Yerza. Yerza and Harris, who played a villainess in the second series of 24, were at today’s event and seemed delighted with their new cars, cheerfully taking in lectures on inner workings on fuel cells, particpating on the factory tour and taking numerous questions from reporters.

Still, who wouldn’t be happy? For starters, Clarity customers have got themselves pretty good deals. While Hollwood celebs, not least Ms. Curtis, are probably wealthy enough not to worry about high gas prices just yet, Honda are only charging $600 a month to lease what is arguably the most leading edge car on the road for three years. The rest of us will have to wait: Honda chief Takeo Fukui said he’s confident that Honda can fully commercialize the zero emission vehicle (its only emission is water) in ten years, but production for the first three years of leasing is limited to just 200—150 in California and 50 in Japan. What’s more, the FCX Clarity is the first fuel cell car that, as another customer, businessmen Jon Spallino put it, doesn’t look like a “toaster”. By using 75% fewer parts than its last fuel cell offering and breakthroughs such as a smaller fuel cell stack, Honda is able to create a roomy car which comfortably seats four and has ample space for luggage. It also does 0-60mph in around nine seconds.

But best of all, come next year’s Academy Awards ceremony, anyone pulling up in a fuel cell car can leave Prius-driving celebs looking so last year.

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