Kiyoshi Shimizu, Chief Engineer and large project leader (LPL) of the Clarity Fuel Cell
1999 FCX-V1 prototype vehicle with fuel cell stack
World's first lease model
2002 First-generation FCX acquires US certification (world first)
2005 FCX Concept exhibited at 39th Tokyo Motor Show
2008 FCX Clarity leasing begun in Japan and US
2014 Honda FCV Concept announced
2016 Clarity Fuel Cell leasing begun
The Clarity Fuel Cell made its debut appearance last October at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show. The unveiling of the all-new fuel cell vehicle (FCV), its styling a more realistic version of the previous year's concept model, the Honda FCV Concept, signaled Honda's readiness to deploy fuel cell technology on a production scale and create a market for FCVs.
Honda sprang into action in March 2016, when it delivered its first lease model of the Clarity Fuel Cell to Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and began leasing to other government agencies and municipalities across the country thereafter.
The Clarity Fuel Cell is the fourth generation in Honda's line of FCVs. Kiyoshi Shimizu, Chief Engineer at Honda R&D’s Automobile R&D Center, offers a self-evaluation of the vehicle whose development he led.
"We succeeded in engineering a distinctive vehicle that holds its own against gasoline vehicles in every category of performance, from comfort and trunk space to cruising distance and design. And it has plenty to offer in the area of fun driving as well. When test-driving our competitor's vehicles, there was no category where I felt we had fallen behind."
The father's love for his child is only natural, of course. And while Shimizu is hardly an unbiased source, he has a reason to be so confident.
"I put special emphasis on not settling for second best. I encouraged the development team to set aside all notions that because this is a clean, eco-friendly FCV, we can ignore or disregard certain standards of customer satisfaction. We put a lot of work into expanding the convenience and value-added features normally expected from a vehicle. Without that approach, FCVs would never be able to compete on equal footing with gasoline engine vehicles. Thanks to the persistence and hard work of my development team, we came up with something infinitely close to the car we had envisioned."
The Honda developers faced the task of not simply developing a functional FCV, but engineering a great car that inspires passion and pride in every owner and driver. The Clarity Fuel Cell stands as evidence of their high standards.
Shimizu's insistence on creating an FCV with features that "compete on equal footing with gasoline engine vehicles" was motivated by an experience he had in the US eight years previously.
In November 2007, around the time the FCX Clarity had its sensational debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Shimizu was transferred to the US for a new job position. His assignment there was not FCV development, but rather to help with attracting new customers to the already developed FCX Clarity. As Shimizu travelled the country meeting with users and hearing their thoughts, one comment took him by surprise.
"Honda is calling this a sedan, but I don't think you understand what a sedan really is."
Those words—which essentially called into question Honda’s understanding of the most basic form of automobile, the sedan—were painful for Shimizu to hear.
Bear in mind that the FCX Clarity was the most cutting-edge FCV at the time. It featured elegant styling made possible by a layout that positioned the fuel cell stack, which was dramatically smaller than the previous model, down the center of the vehicle between the seats. This did not allow for five seats, but such were the technical limits in those days.
Feeling somewhat defensive, Shimizu continued to listen. The user followed up with a number of examples of the FCX Clarity's “flaws”: It had less cargo space, a shorter cruising range, and fewer features than gasoline engine models of the same class, for instance. Taking it all in, Shimizu realized something:
"He was giving me his heartfelt, honest opinion. It was his way of caring."
FCX Clarity users were the early adopters and innovators, people who were sensitive to emerging trends and new sources of value and who took joy in being the first to incorporate them into their lives. This user recognized great value in the FCX Clarity and drove it every day so people could see it. And yet at the same time, he seriously regretted having to use another car simply because it couldn’t fit five people, or more luggage, or drive farther distances.
"This car is still lacking as a sedan."
Such pointed words were not motivated merely by the desire for five seats. What the man was really trying to say, Shimizu realized, was: "This car does not provide the level of convenience and value that typically comes with sedans. Do you understand how disappointing that is?"
"To Americans, the automobile is a symbol of freedom and a means of living out that freedom," explains Shimizu. "Excuses that call attention to the vehicle's fuel cells or environmental performance simply don’t fly here. Without the type of value universally expected from an automobile, customers will never be satisfied with an FCV. I felt on a visceral level that we really need to take users' honest opinions—and the care they express toward our products—seriously."
US model shown
The FCX Clarity's packaging positioned the fuel cell stack in a center "tunnel" (image above), allowing only two rear passengers. This made it a four-person vehicle.
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