On this day in 2009, the Honda FCX Clarity, a four-door sedan billed as the planet’s first hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle intended for mass production, wins the World Green Car award at the New York Auto Show.
The first FCX Clarity cars came off the assembly line at a Honda plant in Takanezawa, Japan, in June 2008. As The New York Times reported at the time: “Fuel-cell vehicles have been a sort of holy grail of the auto industry, offering the promise of driving without emitting air-polluting exhaust. Fuel cells work by combining hydrogen and oxygen from ordinary air to make electricity, in a process whose only byproducts are water and heat.”
According to Honda, which reportedly spent more than 15 years and millions of dollars developing its fuel-cell technology, the FCX Clarity is more fuel-efficient than a gas-powered car or hybrid and gets 74 miles per gallon of fuel. The Times also noted that fuel-cell vehicles such as the FCX Clarity are more eco-friendly than an electric car “whose batteries take hours to recharge and use electricity, which, in the case of the United States, China and many other countries, is often produced by coal-burning power plants.”
One downside of fuel-cell technology, however, is its cost, which in the case of the FCX Clarity, added up to several hundred thousand dollars per vehicle. To combat this issue, Honda chose to initially lease rather than sell the cars, at a subsidized price of some $600 per month. In July 2008, the first FCX Clarity cars became available in California. In November of that same year, another fleet was leased to government employees in Japan.
At the time of the FCX Clarity’s debut in 2008, the Japanese auto industry, led by Honda and Toyota, was out in front of American car makers in developing green technologies. In 1997, Toyota launched the Prius, the world’s first mass-produced hybrid car. The Prius debuted in the U.S. in 2000 and went on to dominate the hybrid-vehicle market. American auto giants such as General Motors were criticized for maintaining a focus on producing gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and small trucks for too long, even as consumer demand shifted toward more fuel-efficient, eco-friendly cars.