Honda Ships First Fuel-Cell Car to Southern California

TAKANEZAWA, Japan -- Honda's new zero-emission, hydrogen fuel-cell car rolled off a Japanese production line Monday and is headed to southern California, where Hollywood is already abuzz over the latest splash in green motoring.

The FCX Clarity, which runs on hydrogen and electricity, emits only water and none of the gases believed to induce global warming. It is also two times more energy efficient than a gas-electric hybrid and three times that of a standard gasoline-powered car, the company says.

Honda expects to lease out a "few dozen" units this year and about 200 units within a year. In California, a three-year lease will run $600 a month, which includes maintenance and collision coverage.

Among the first customers are actress Jamie Lee Curtis and filmmaker Christopher Guest, actress Laura Harris, film producer Ron Yerxa, as well as businessmen Jon Spallino and Jim Salomon.

The biggest obstacles standing in the way of wider adoption of fuel-cell vehicles are cost and the dearth of hydrogen fuel stations. For the Clarity's release in California, Honda said it received 50,000 applications through its web site but could only consider those living near stations in Torrance, Santa Monica and Irvine.

"This is indeed a historic day for both Honda and American Honda -- a new chapter in our nearly 50-year history in America," said John Mendel, a senior vice president at America Honda Motor at a morning ceremony here. "It's an especially significant day for American Honda as we plant firm footsteps toward the mainstreaming of fuel cell cars."

Initially, however, the Clarity will go only to a chosen few starting July and then launch in Japan this fall.