Honda to begin leasing Clarity hydrogen vehicles

The $600-a-month Clarity, based on the prototype FCX sports car Honda unveiled in 2006, will be offered in California to hopefully take advantage of a local network of hydrogen fueling stations being built across the state.

Honda is the first automaker certified to presently market fuel-cell autos in the United States. The Clarity will be the first fuel cell car to be put in the hands of individual consumers. The official announcement was made during a press conference at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The leasing plan will help Tokyo-based Honda challenge Toyota Motor Corp., which has sold a million gasoline-electric Prius hybrids, for the lead in economical, low-pollution autos. California is gradually developing a Hydrogen Highway Network to serve fuel-cell vehicles, marginally expanding the number of hydrogen stations from about 20 now to be more than 100 in the next few years.

Fuel cells, typically layers of plastic, carbon fiber and metals such as platinum, create electricity in a chemical process that combines hydrogen and oxygen. Ideally, the water vapor is the only byproduct.

Honda’s Clarity has a maximum speed of 100 miles an hour (161 kilometers an hour) and will travel as far as 270 miles when fully fueled, Honda said. The new car will lease for three years at $600 a month, said Dan Bonawitz, Honda’s vice president of product planning.