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Honda seeks Clarity in electrified future

2017 Honda Clarity Electric

Honda unveils 3-in-1 Clarity strategy, offering FCV, BEV and PHEV

Last week’s New York International Auto Show saw Honda reveal its new Clarity models, both of which are based on electrified technology. The Clarity Plug-in Hybrid and the Electric will join the existing Clarity Fuel Cell, with the company now eyeing 75,000 Clarity sales in the US within four years.

According to Honda, the 2017 Electric is powered by a 120-kilowatt electric motor producing 221 lb.-ft. of torque and drawing power from a 25.5-kWh battery pack. The battery will take just over three hours to charge fully at 240 V, or using DC fast-charging with an SAE Combined Charging System, will manage 80% charge in just 30 minutes.

Although unrated thus far, the model is anticipated to have an anticipated EPA fuel economy rating of 120/102/111 MPGe (city/highway/combined). The model will be launched later in 2017, beginning with a lease program in California and Oregon.

By comparison, the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid carries a slightly smaller battery 17kWh battery and a larger 130-kW motor, in addition to its 1.5-l Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder engine. Honda say this offers an all-electric driving range rating of 42 miles, which isn’t bad for hybrid. Plug-in charging will see the battery fully replenished in around 2.5 hours at 240V.

Meanwhile, deliveries of the Clarity Fuel Cell began in December 2016 in “select California markets” where the automaker has delivered over 100 vehicles so far. The latest model features a reduced fuel cell stack size – 33 % more compact – with a 60 % increase in power density on the previous Honda FCX Clarity, and a range of 366 miles. The latest powertrain, Honda says, is now comparable in size to a V-6 engine, and fits entirely under the bonnet of the car, allowing for a more spacious cabin.

 

2017 Honda Clarity Electric
2017 Honda Clarity Electric

 

3 in 1

Honda’s so-called “3-in-1” strategy is an interesting one. The Clarity is indeed the only model that ElecTrans has come across offering a choice of fuel cell, battery electric and plug-in hybrid powertrains. According to Honda, that will allow it to “respond to infrastructure and market developments, provide customers nationwide with an ultra-low carbon vehicle that meets their lifestyle need.” In reality it means that Honda doesn’t have to pick a technology, only to discover it backed the wrong horse.

While a diversified portfolio may make good business sense, it suggests that Honda either isn’t convinced by either technology, or can’t be seen to put all of its eggs in the FCV basket. Like other Japanese automakers, it has thrown its weight and innovating prowess behind fuel cells, yet as rivals continue push the envelope of battery EVs – 300+ mile range and faster charging – it looks as though Honda has realised it cannot afford not to offer them too.

The 3-headed Clarity may therefore represent a crossroads in Honda’s electrification plans, allowing the company to test sales of the three (relatively) identical models and determine its course. It may also represent an attempt to please everyone, although we fear that in such a polarised space this will be far less successful.

According to the company’s press statement, it intends for two-thirds of its global automobile sales to come from electrified vehicles by 2030. By that point, let’s hope they will have picked a winner.

 

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