2017 Honda Clarity: Hydrogen-mageddon
by Bryn MacKinnon, Manager, Content Operations
Where Did We Drive It?
We last reported on our long-term 2017 Honda Clarity fuel cell vehicle in spring. Honestly, there hadn't been much to report. The Clarity is used for short local commutes and errands most of the time. Not exactly exciting stuff. But something very special happened in July.
Driving the Clarity is easy. It's a sedan. It goes where you point it. It may not be considered fun to drive, but if you didn't know you were driving a fuel cell vehicle, you wouldn't know you were driving a fuel cell vehicle.
But how was fueling the Clarity? Not so easy. At least it wasn't the last few months. In fact, I can't remember when I had an easy time putting freezing-cold hydrogen in the tank of this car. Some things that can make your trip to the hydrogen pump go sideways include:
- • Limited locations with hydrogen pumps can mean there are three cars in line ahead of yours for the single H2 pump.
- • After four or five cars in a row fill up, the hydrogen pump often shuts down for a few hours to warm up (the system becomes "supercooled" when hydrogen passes through it).
- • The Hydrogen Truck Guy might be there to fill up the empty tanks (yay!), but the station's status hasn't updated in your H2 Station Finder app before you leave the office (boo!). So, no H2 for you.
True story: In late August, I waited in line for 30 minutes while three Toyota Mirais in front of me filled their tanks. The first two guys got their hydrogen but needed three people and a few minutes each to help them disconnect the nozzle from their cars.
The woman in front of me kept getting booted off the system after a minute of fueling until the Hydrogen Truck Guy showed up and told us the tank was empty, and it would take him 30 minutes to refill it. I had a meeting to get to, so I headed back to the office and tagged Vehicle Testing Assistant Rex Tokeshi-Torres into the ring to get it done later.
But none of these experiences compare to the Hydrogen-mageddon we experienced in mid-July.
It was July 17, a Tuesday, and I needed to fuel up the Clarity. I checked the trusty H2 Station Finder app on my phone and was greeted with red circles filled with exclamation points for all of the Los Angeles area hydrogen stations, except for one in nearby Manhattan Beach. When the circles are red, it means the station is offline. If the station is offline, you can't get hydrogen.
I was curious to learn why so many of the stations were offline at the same time, so I called the customer service line for the app, which is owned by Air Liquide, I think. (There are a lot of players in this game, and it's hard to keep it all straight.) The nice man who answered said that both of the stations nearest to our office were offline because they were out of fuel. He couldn't say when there would be fuel because his team had been asking for "them" to schedule refuelings but hadn't heard anything. And he said he couldn't give me an update until he had an update of his own.
He was really apologetic (in the slightly beaten-down tone of someone who has been dealing with a slew angry hydrogen customers). And so I said, "You've got the suckiest job right now, don't you?" He laughed the Laughter of Relief and I laughed, and we became friends. So the Clarity wouldn't be getting any fuel today. It was at about a third of a tank, so I was probably safe for a couple of days, but it wasn't a great feeling.
The circles were all red the next day, too. The California Fuel Cell Partnership replied to my tweet from Tuesday asking if anyone knew what was going on, saying that someone or something called True Zero would be providing more info in a webinar the next day. The Clarity remained unfueled, and I started making alternate transportation plans for Thursday, just in case. I'm lucky. I have a gasoline-powered personal car and access to a whole fleet of gasoline-fueled cars I can turn to.
On Thursday, my buddy Rex drove the Clarity to a hydrogen station about 10 miles away from the office that finally came back online and successfully filled the tank. He had to wait TWO AND A HALF HOURS. He really is a prince.
Meanwhile, I listened in on the webinar. They didn't give a lot of answers about the shortage. They acknowledged there had been supply issues and encouraged owners to join Facebook groups for their vehicle for more information and to create an account on the California Fuel Cell Partnership website to get text updates about specific stations. I tried and couldn't get it to work. They talked about a lot of hydrogen stuff that had nothing to do with the shortage.
And then one by one, over the next couple of weeks, most of the stations went back online. Air Products (which is the company that runs the stations closest to our office, and the one Rex refueled at) wrote astatement about the situation.
Hydrogen-mageddon 2018 is over. But I've developed a pretty strong anxiety response whenever I need to fuel up that car. Yeah, driving the Clarity is pretty much like driving any other car. Fueling the Clarity (or any hydrogen vehicle, really) is its own thing entirely, and I don't like it. The lady in the Mirai ahead of me in line was seriously considering turning her car in and getting a gasoline-powered car. She was fed up, and I don't blame her.
TL;DR: The hydrogen fuel infrastructure isn't quite ready for prime time.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Did It Get?
Average lifetime mpkg: 61.3
EPA mpkg rating: 67 combined (67 city /66 highway)
Best fill mpkg: 69.8
Best range: 309.8 miles
Current odometer: 11,395 miles
Maintenance and Upkeep
"Received this from Honda regarding maintenance costs:
"'The Clarity Fuel Cell service fees have been reduced since the vehicle's launch in December 2016. As Honda works to advance electrified vehicles into the mainstream, two important factors are: 1) ensuring a positive customer experience at the dealerships; and 2) low cost of ownership.
"'Honda is actively issuing loyalty gift cards to Clarity Fuel Cell customers who have experienced a higher-than-expected fee for their first service with a $400 credit toward their next Clarity Fuel Cell service. [We received our card recently and will use it for the Clarity's next service appointment — Ed.]
"'The new average fee for a Clarity's first service, before tax, is around $200. Although this could be more than the first service for an Accord, the Clarity Fuel Cell requires fewer service visits over the span of the three-year lease period than an Accord. Therefore, over the life of the lease, a Clarity Fuel Cell customer is spending about the same as an Accord customer.'" — Carlos Lago, manager, feature content