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Will Honda Bring Clarity or Confusion to the EV Market With its Latest Cars?

The Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid has a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an 181 hp electric motor that can draw energy from a battery pack or from the gasoline engine.

AFP Relaxnews

Updated:April 15, 2017, 6:33 PM IST
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Will Honda Bring Clarity or Confusion to the EV Market With its Latest Cars?
The Honda Clarity range at the 2017 New York International Auto Show. (Photo: AFP Relaxnews)

Japanese carmaker Honda has set itself a huge target of selling 75,000 electrified cars in the US within the next four years and it believes that the key to meeting that goal is to offer buyers a range of three very different types of plug-in car, all called Clarity.

Clarity is the name Honda bestowed on its Hydrogen Fuel Cell car, which has been available for lease in the US since 2016. At this week's New York Auto Show it has turned the name into a three-car range by launching the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid and the Clarity Electric, both of which look similar to the fuel cell original but are very different beneath the skin.

The Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid has a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an 181 hp electric motor that can draw energy from a battery pack or from the gasoline engine. It can travel purely on electric power, or fire up the traditional engine to generate more charge when the battery pack is empty.

However, the all-electric version uses batteries alone to power its 161hp electric motor -- when power runs out, it will need to be reconnected to a charging point.

"The Honda Clarity is aimed at accelerating the deployment of advanced electrified powertrain technology and bringing electrified vehicles further into the mainstream," said Jeff Conrad, senior vice president of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Currently, even in progressive geographical locations, alternative fuel infrastructure -- be it public charging networks or hydrogen refueling stations -- is still in its infancy. This is partly due to the chicken-and-egg syndrome. If more people drove electrified cars, there'd be more need for infrastructure. However, people won't buy electrified cars in greater numbers until infrastructure improves.

The other issue is range anxiety. The Clarity Electric can only cover an estimated 120 miles between recharges (it's yet to get EPA certification). It can recharge up to 80 percent in 30 minutes when connected to a fast charger, but the car could still prove a hard sell -- even if the average daily commute in the US is less than 60 miles.

The Fuel Cell Clarity, which creates electricity via a chemical reaction between hydrogen and water, offers a very impressive 366-mile range. However, it's currently only available in California where the foundations of a hydrogen refilling infrastructure is slowly being laid.

Therefore, Honda is banking on the plug-in hybrid Clarity, which will be available in two trim levels. It can cover 42 miles on electricity alone, and with the engine serving as a range extender, manage a total 330+ miles before all power sources are used up.

"Electrification is the future of mobility and the future of Honda, and it all starts now with this new Clarity series," said Steve Center, vice president of the Connected and Environmental Business Development Office at American Honda.

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