Inside Honda's Hydrogen Fuel-Cell PHEV CRV and Plans

Honda CRV e:FCEV
Credit: Roberto Baldwin/SAE


It's unfair to call Honda just an automaker. It's the largest engine manufacturer in the world that has expanded beyond automotive into motorcycles, marine, generators, and items like lawnmowers and jets. Honda's business is vast and as we move into sustainability, it knows that there's more than one path into the world of greener products. 

The company has a long history of releasing short-run vehicles into the market for a few years for research. Its first EV, the EV Plus hit the road in 1997, and the first fuel-cell vehicle certified for consumer use, the FCX was released by Honda in 2003. So it should be no surprise that it is continuing its research into hydrogen fuel-cell passenger vehicles with the upcoming CRV e:FCEV, a hydrogen fuel-cell plug-in hybrid (PHEV) with a mouthful of a name. 

We got a chance to drive one of these new vehicles on a short loop near Honda's US headquarters in Torrance, California. What's remarkable about the vehicle behind the wheel is how utterly unremarkable it was to drive. Honda set us up with its hybrid CRV as a comparison and beyond the extra weight of the fuel-cell and electric systems (about 500 pounds), the fuel-cell PHEV (albeit with a few different noises coming from under the hood), drove like a CRV. 

Under that hood is the company's second-generation fuel-cell system paired with a battery, motor, and something new in the world of hydrogen-powered vehicles, a plug. The decision to build a PHEV FCV (Fuel-cell vehicle) was based on feedback Honda received from current and former Honda Clarity FCV leasees, the fluctuation in the availability of hydrogen, and being conscious about the alternatives for transportation. 

The 17.7-kWh capacity battery pack delivers up to 29 miles of EV-only driving. The CRV e:FCEV is a series PHEV, meaning that the wheels are only powered by the electric motor that pulls power from the battery pack and/or the fuel-cell stack. The result is an adequate 174 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque. 

Honda Fuel Cell System
Credit: Roberto Baldwin/SAE

Keeping the vehicle on the road with the most abundant element on the planet is the CRV's carbon fiber hydrogen tank can hold a total of 4.3 kilograms. The total range for the crossover is up to 270 miles. 

But there is a caveat, Honda will only lease these vehicles in California, and for good reason. It's the only state with a robust enough hydrogen-fueling infrastructure. This has been one of the ongoing issues with hydrogen adoption, not enough places to fuel up these vehicles. Honda is teaming up with FirstElement Fuel, a company determined to expand the footprint of FCV adoption by actually building stations. 

There's also Hyundai's plan to create and sell hydrogen at a large scale in the United States which would benefit not just Hyundai and Honda, but also long-time hydrogen fan, Toyota. Most of these companies see hydrogen fueling benefiting large class 8 trucks and other shipping and transportation vehicles ahead of making a larger splash in the consumer market. 

Honda Hydrogen fuel cell generator
Credit: Roberto Baldwin/SAE


Most are also exploring use cases outside of vehicles. At the drive event, Honda also showed off the large 576 kW hydrogen-powered backup generator attached to its Torrance, California data center. Powered by eight fell-cell stacks from decommissioned Honda Clarity FCVs, like the CRV, this is a proof of concept and research into how the largest engine manufacturer in the world can diversify the use of hydrogen-powered devices.  

It's this diversification that would increase the production of the fuel-cell systems at the company's US-based facility. The current goal is to build 2,000 fuel-cell stacks by the end of this year and ramp that up as the technology matures and finds additional use cases. 

Honda only expects to lease roughly 300 vehicles in California. Like the FCX and EV Plus before it, the CRV  e:FCEV will hit the road for a few years and Honda will gather data from drivers and tear down the vehicles to see how they performed in the real world. It's not going to be a huge hit, but it will do is give the automaker the information it needs to potentially offer up another alternative to the masses as we move towards a more sustainable world. 

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