Honda has been screwing around with the idea of a hydrogen-powered mass-market car for years. Today they’ve even got a new version of the Clarity Fuel Cell Concept, a “zero emission” sedan scheduled to be on sale, for real, in Japan in March and here in the U.S. shortly after.

Hydrogen is an extremely appealing automotive fuel source because it packs tons of explosive energy without emitting the noxious chemicals a gasoline or diesel-burning car kicks out its tailpipe.

Hydrogen is a useless automotive fuel source because there’s very little infrastructure to support a car that runs on anything besides gasoline, diesel or to some extent electricity.

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But Honda says that’s changing, pointing out that the state of California has already committed $20 million a year to help improve the feasibility of hydrogen powered cars.

As they announced at the Tokyo Motor Show, the Clarity will be on sale in Japan in early 2016. Perhaps more ambitiously, the company plans to sell the car in select American markets before next year is out.

“This will start with our customers in California, centered around a growing refueling network in Los Angeles, Orange County and the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento. Eventually, we will expand the scope of our marketing to additional California markets and other states, including the Northeast,” says Honda’s Environmental Business Development Manager Ryan Harty.

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But unlike the original Honda Fuel Cell concept, or the first Insight electric car, the new Clarity is supposed to be halfway decent to sit in and drive. As the Clairity’s chief engineer Kiyoshi Shimizu explains:

“The overall size is similar to a modern V-6 engine, and this allowed us to package the entire system under the hood of the car, opening up more space inside the car for people. As a result, the Clarity is the first fuel cell sedan to offer seating for five passengers.”

As for real-world usability, the hydrogen car is set to have a range of 300 miles and even “sport” mode for, who knows really. But it’s there.

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Even as Honda’s execs soapbox about their commitment to hydrogen tech and the Clarity, I got the impression that they recognize this alternative fuel is a long way off from mass adoption.

But there was a lot of talk about hydrogen as “one pillar” of the company’s plan for improving efficiency, and Honda might be on to something with that.

See Honda’s planning on launching an all-new plug-in electric car for 2018. That will sit on the same platform as the Clarity. My first inference is that the two will be combined; a car requiring a small amount of hydrogen to cover great distances thanks to supplemental electric power could be a cool transitional idea for a minimally-polluting mass-market peoplemover.

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Guess we’ll have to see how the Clarity does next year first. Stay tuned.

Images via the author, Honda


Contact the author at andrew@jalopnik.com.