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Waiting for Clarity: Is an 80-Mile Range Enough for Honda's Electric Car?

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 3/2/2017 Bengt Halvorson

Waiting for Clarity: Is an 80-Mile Range Enough for Honda's Electric Car?© Bengt Halvorson Waiting for Clarity: Is an 80-Mile Range Enough for Honda's Electric Car?

Is 80 miles of driving range enough for an electric car in 2017? Honda seems to think so with its upcoming Clarity Electric, the battery-powered version of its green Honda Clarity lineup, which also consists of a plug-in hybrid and a fuel-cell model. But for its EV, Honda is going against the current thinking in which more range is almost universally seen as better.

Although there may be a very small group of EV enthusiasts who’d rather not haul around more batteries than they need, Honda is bound to encounter some pushback with this approach. Five years ago, several automakers launched EVs that delivered about the same amount of range. This was posited as sufficient for a driver who plugs in every night, given that the average U.S. daily driving commute is approximately 30 miles. But the automakers found themselves on the defensive against what was termed range anxiety—the worry that drivers experience over possibly running out of charge before getting to their destination.

Differing Strategies


With lithium-ion battery costs falling faster than anticipated, the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus Electric have since received significant battery upgrades that put them well over the 100-mile mark, and the new Hyundai Ioniq Electric is expected to be good for 125 miles per charge.

Honda recently revealed that cost was one of the reasons for the battery-electric version’s limited range. The Clarity Electric is expected to be priced close to the Chevrolet Bolt EV, but the two models take a very different approach. The Bolt crams 60 kWh of battery cells—providing 238 miles of rated range—into a small, tall hatchback that makes no attempt to hide the fact that it’s engineered to meet its base price of $37,495. By contrast, the Clarity is a mid-size sedan, with a plush, spacious interior—but a (presumably) much smaller battery pack that provides a much shorter driving distance.

Honda hasn’t yet announced purchase or leasing plans for the Clarity Electric, but it's expected to be less expensive than the $59,365 MSRP or $369-per-month lease that dealers are listing for the Clarity Fuel Cell model. The Fuel Cell offers a 366-mile range and is available to drivers who live near one of the 25 operational hydrogen fueling stations (about the same number are under construction), while the Electric might be limited to California and the states that follow its ZEV mandate.

Engineered for Sacramento

Honda's ulterior motive could be to sandbag its EV in order to make its costly hydrogen-fuel-cell technology seem worth a premium. After all, Honda is heavily invested in hydrogen fuel-cell technology. It has built a series of limited-availability fuel-cell vehicles, starting in the U.S. in 2002, and then more recently, with the FCX Clarity, available to California consumers via a lease. It has also joined forces with General Motors to manufacture core fuel-cell hardware together in Michigan beginning around 2020. And in late 2014, the company announced it has made a $13.8 million contribution to FirstElement Fuel toward development of hydrogen refueling infrastructure.

Then there’s the fact that the Clarity was built to meet the zero-emission-vehicle (ZEV) requirements of California’s Air Resources Board. Those requirements are likely to give each Clarity Hydrogen Fuel Cell more than twice the credits toward Honda’s regulatory compliance compared with each Clarity Electric.

2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell© Provided by Car and Driver 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell

Is Honda using a low driving range for its electric-only model as a way of steering intenders around an EV and toward a hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicle? Will those shoppers see hydrogen as a step up, or will they merely jump over to one of many other longer-range EVs already here or on the way? Honda is due to release more information about the Clarity lineup soon, so we may yet get some, ahem, clarity on the brand's green-car strategy.


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