On Saturday I got to try out some of Honda’s newest green vehicles at the company’s R&D center in Tochigi, Japan. Among the vehicles on show were operable versions of Honda’s latest gasoline, diesel and flexible fuel powered prototypes. The car that caused most excitement, though, was the FCX Concept fuel cell vehicle (see above). The sleek FCX Concept was first shown off at the Tokyo Motor Show last year, although only now has Honda let members of the media try one out for size on a track. Honda says they’ll begin marketing a limited number in Japan from 2008.
The new, improved fuel cell operable prototype has plenty going for it. Its fuel cell stack is 20% smaller and 30% lighter than the current version, while the power plant is 180kg lighter and 40% lighter. Its range is about 570km. Those space savings enable Honda to make a car that looks more like a sedan than the normal boxy fuel cell concepts. Generating speeds of up to 160kmh (100mph), the FCX sounded more like a aircraft as it crusied past. Behind the wheel, it handled fairly well, although the lack of engine noise was a little unnerving. The interior has a space age feel with electronic dials monitoring the performance of its lithium ion cells and fuel cell stack.
Honda’s latest diesel engine also looks like it will raise the bar. Honda says it will be capable of meeting the most stringent U.S. environmental requirements and produce the same level of exhaust gas emissions as gasoline engines. It works by using a catalytic converter to absorb some of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) while converting a portion into ammonia. The latter is then later reacted with the remaining NOx to create harmless nitrogen. The converter is designed for use with the 2.2 liter diesel engine used since 2003 in Europe on the Accord. A few things still need ironing out before it can be introduced. For instance, the test model’s engine was relatively noisy. Honda, though, says that’ll be sorted out soon enough. Whether a super clean diesel will be enough to get American and Japanese drivers to embrace the fuel, of course, remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.