FCEV plug-in fuel cell hybrid is the future. Is it?

Honda invited us out to its US R&D Middle in Torrance, California to drive the brand new gasoline cell plug-in hybrid model of the CR-V, which will get launched later this 12 months. Is that this first-ever hybrid between a battery EV and gasoline cell EV the way forward for electrical vehicles?

Honda’s CR-V e:FCEV (say that ten instances quick) is the primary in a brand new era of Honda’s gasoline cell know-how, a lot improved over the hydrogen gasoline cells in its earlier gasoline cell autos, the FCX and Readability (the Readability’s gasoline cells are actually getting used for stationary energy era purposes).

The brand new era reduces value and will increase sturdiness, utilizing fewer uncommon components and giving higher chilly climate efficiency, amongst different enhancements.

This gasoline cell stack has been paired with a 17.7kWh battery, a lot bigger than that on most gasoline cell autos, good for about 29 miles of battery-electric vary, and 270 miles of whole vary. Most FCEVs have a small battery to behave as a buffer between the gasoline cell stack and the electrical drive items, however the e:FCEV expands on that to supply an precise traction battery that may be recharged by plugging the automotive in.

It’s a novel answer, which we haven’t seen in another autos but. And there are some ways in which this works – a FCEV is an EV anyway, and has a buffer battery regardless, so that you’re not altering a lot by way of complexity by simply making that battery sufficiently big to drive the automobile by itself. And you’re actually including extra practicality, probably permitting day by day driving to be achieved on electrical and conserving hydrogen fillups much less frequent.

However a novel answer could or might not be the proper answer. So, is that this e:FCEV the following massive factor, or simply an attention-grabbing one-shot?

Honda CR-V e:FCEV First Drive

I’m going to attempt to preserve the drive phase quick (replace: whoops, I didn’t), as a result of I feel there’s extra attention-grabbing dialogue available across the philosophy of this automobile, relatively than the precise implementation of it. We’ll get to that.

At its core, the drive expertise of the e:FCEV is sort of much like that of Honda’s common gasoline-powered hybrid CR-V. The CR-V is Honda’s hottest automobile and one of many best-selling vehicles in its phase (behind the RAV4 and Mannequin Y), so it’s a reasonably recognized amount right here.

It is available in two colours – white or grey

The outside seems extraordinarily much like the fuel CR-V, although if you recognize what you’re on the lookout for you’ll be capable of see variations. These are primarily within the longer entrance overhang, completely different grille (bigger on the FCEV than hybrid – for extra cooling, oddly sufficient), and completely different taillights. Plus the dearth of exhaust pipes, after all.

The inside could be very near the prevailing CR-V, however makes use of some upgraded more-sustainable supplies, which ought to be engaging to the doubtless more-sustainably-minded buyer base that Honda is on the lookout for with this automotive (although this leaves one to surprise: if these supplies are extra sustainable, why can’t Honda simply use them on the fuel variations of the automotive, the place a lot larger quantity can have an even bigger impact on total sustainability?)

I do fairly just like the “honeycomb” sprint sample, the place the air-con vents stay. It’s a cool-looking design function, and fairly practical as effectively. Although it looks like it might be robust to wash or restore.

The display is 9 inches, and has wi-fi CarPlay and Android Auto, which you’ll most likely keep in more often than not until you wish to have a look at the “power move” show to get a way of whether or not the battery or gasoline cell is at present powering the automobile.

The largest inside change is within the rear, the place the hydrogen tanks have been positioned behind the seats, which means a major chunk has been taken out of the rear cargo space.

Honda’s answer to that is fairly intelligent, turning the rear right into a two-tier cargo space. By lifting a shelf from the loading flooring and putting it on rails behind the tank space, the higher cargo space is made flat with an extra storage cubby beneath. Rear seats could be folded right down to make an extended flat cargo space, which Honda stated is loads sufficient to carry a motorcycle (after which, you’ve nonetheless bought room underneath the shelf for a bag, or groceries, or no matter).

In any other case, the inside is snug, practical, and good. You get what you assume you’ll get out of the third-best promoting automotive in America’s hottest phase – nothing funky like a drop-down 27″ TV or “taco trays.” simply the form of workmanlike effort one would anticipate out of Honda.

However this familiarity additionally means the expertise is much like fuel Hondas, which is one thing that we, the EV devoted, have largely moved past. To start out up the automotive, you want a key (gasp), you want to put your foot on the brake (okay), you want to press a begin button (gasp), and also you even want to show it off if you get out (riot!!).

Whenever you do press that “energy on” button, you’ll be able to hear the automotive “begin up” with a particular (and actually fairly cool) “whoosh” sound, extra audible outdoors than inside, which is the sound of the gasoline cell stack sucking in air for use within the gasoline cell response. This response combines hydrogen fuel saved in an onboard tank (H2) with oxygen (O) extracted from the air to type H2O, plain water. This water exhausts (drips) from a small pipe close to the tire.

The automotive’s accelerator pedal is responsive, however energy will not be that robust (and regardless of that, it’s nonetheless fairly simple to chirp the tires with the front-wheel drive powertrain). Peak energy is 174hp (130kW), about 80kW of which comes from the hydrogen gasoline cell stack (after accounting for system losses). The rest comes from the battery, although that is additionally depending on battery state of cost, so that you’re going to finish up someplace within the mid-100s by way of peak horsepower.

So it’s not that a lot oomph, particularly given the ~500 further kilos the e:FCEV weighs over the hybrid CR-V (Honda didn’t have a closing curb weight quantity for us, nevertheless it sounds prefer it’s someplace within the ~4,300-4,400lb vary).

In case you’re on the lookout for a punchy, sporty, electrical acceleration expertise, you received’t get it right here. However for those who’re on the lookout for one thing just a little extra responsive than your midsize fuel SUV, and that may rise up to hurry with out as a lot choking drama from a fuel engine, then the e:FCEV may supply a nice change.

Modes upon modes

The automotive has 4 drive modes: Sport, Regular, Econ, and Snow. These modes change throttle mapping and “clean out” accelerator inputs, with some modes lowering the facility utilized by the HVAC system. Sport mode additionally comes with “Lively Sound Management.” We’ll get to that in a second.

In apply, like with most autos, I discovered that I preferred sport mode the most effective. This isn’t as a result of it’s the quickest, however as a result of I need management of my automobile. I don’t need my throttle inputs artificially slowed down (if I wished that, I’d drive a sluggish fuel automotive), I don’t wish to be lacking the total energy at full throttle, and I don’t want a automotive to pressure me to drive economically as a result of if I wished to do this, I can simply raise my foot just a little and get the identical outcomes as if I used to be in “Econ” mode.

If I’m on a stupendous nature drive, I don’t wish to hear a faux fuel engine

However the issue with that is that sport mode’s “Lively Sound Management” makes it sound like there’s a fuel engine within the automotive. It’s not as loud, rumbly and disruptive because the precise fuel engine within the hybrid, and it doesn’t sound precisely like a fuel engine, however the pitch is nearer to a fuel engine than most “faux EV noises” we’ve heard, and doesn’t sound very “futuristic” (for the document: these noises are additionally dumb).

There is no such thing as a strategy to flip off this sound in sport mode, however at the very least it’s solely current in sport mode. If you wish to drive in essentially the most responsive drive mode, it’s important to take heed to an MP3 file of motor noise everytime you speed up or decelerate.

Regenerative braking: no one-pedal

Deceleration comes within the type of a blended brake pedal, which prompts regen or friction brakes relying on how far down you’re urgent it, or within the type of regenerative braking which is accessible by paddles behind the steering wheel.

Although in contrast to many EVs the place these paddles can help you set a regen degree after which neglect about it (whether or not for that drive, or completely), the regen degree on the e:FCEV resets a number of seconds after you cease utilizing it. So because of this each time you cease the automotive, you want to press the paddle for the automotive to recollect your regen settings.

This methodology, once more, is a carryover from the hybrid CR-V, which has related paddle operation. You may consider it extra like paddle shifters on a handbook transmission automobile, controlling the quantity of engine braking you’re getting.

However any setting isn’t notably robust within the regen division, and even within the most “D with 4 down-arrows subsequent to it” regen mode, the automotive will not be actually meant for one pedal operation. And it has a creep which may’t be turned off (although there’s a brake maintain button).

EV vs. gasoline cell mode

In order that’s two separate modes, drive mode and regen mode. However there’s one other mode choice, e-mode, permitting you management over which powertrain you’re utilizing. This allows you to both drive totally on “EV”, to “Save” your battery degree, to “Cost” your battery, or to let the automotive determine it out on “Auto.”

In apply, we tried to begin in EV mode and instantly dropped out of it and had been unable to modify again into it. The automotive solely has restricted energy in EV mode, as a result of the battery doesn’t put out as a lot energy because the gasoline cell stack. So for those who ever name for extra energy than EV mode can present (which automotive journalists are clearly going to do throughout a check drive), the automotive kicks into Auto mode. And since gasoline cell stacks don’t wish to be turned on and off on a regular basis, when you’ve turned it on, it stays on for that complete drive, till the automotive is powered down.

A V2L adapter permits 1500W of energy output, using each battery and gasoline cell for plenty of power

Whenever you’re not in EV mode, the automotive received’t let you know how a lot electric-only vary you’ve got left, however it is going to idle the gasoline cell stack and use solely battery when gasoline cell energy is not required.

So we had been having bother pondering of how these modes could be helpful, because it looks like the automotive will normally be in Auto mode. Honda talked about that homeowners would doubtless get used to the light-foot requirement for staying in EV mode over the course of possession. One worker stated that, with apply, he can simply preserve his hybrid CR-V from turning on the engine when he’s simply driving a number of blocks. I’m prepared to imagine this.

Honda additionally stated that “save” or “cost” modes might be helpful, for instance, when you recognize you’re heading to gasoline up at a hydrogen station throughout a visit, so you’ll be able to be sure you depart the station with full cost and a full tank.

Wait, a tank?

Okay, so now we’ve described the drive expertise, which was… fantastic. It’s clear that the automotive is influenced primarily by the fuel/hybrid facet of issues, relatively than the EV side of things, and it’s not almost as punchy because the best-selling automobile in its class (and the world). Nevertheless it’s bought a pleasant inside and it will get you round city with out bother.

However the massive gray elephant within the room is the way you get that power into the automobile to start with, and for the e:FCEV, most of that power goes to return from hydrogen. And most of that fuel comes from one other fuel, methane (additionally greenwashingly known as “natural” gas, also referred to as a greenhouse fuel 28x more potent than CO2 that tends to escape when we frack for it) which produces 95% of the hydrogen we get within the US by a course of known as steam reforming.

So in apply, a hydrogen automotive is a methane automotive, at the very least proper now. Effectively-to-wheel, it affords larger whole thermal effectivity (turning fossil gasoline power into ahead movement) than a fuel automobile would, however decrease effectivity than if that methane fuel had been used to generate electrical energy and cost a BEV.

How environment friendly varied automobile sorts are. Supply: US Dept of Energy

However hydrogen will also be produced by electrolysis of water, the place electrical energy, ideally generated through surplus renewable power, is run by water to interrupt it down into hydrogen and oxygen. That is the reverse of the response that makes a gasoline cell work – put electrical energy into water to interrupt it into hydrogen and oxygen, put hydrogen and oxygen again collectively to make electrical energy and water.

This has been known as “inexperienced hydrogen,” versus the “grey hydrogen” which is the overwhelming majority of present hydrogen manufacturing (see extra about the confusingly-named “colors” of hydrogen here).

If gasoline cell autos had been fueled by inexperienced hydrogen, they might all of a sudden develop into quite a bit cleaner – identical to how BEVs get cleaner when fueled by photo voltaic relatively than coal.

The hydrogen filling nozzle has a really… industrial look to it

Nevertheless it’s not as simple to construct a hydrogen electrolysis machine in your storage as it’s to place up photo voltaic panels in your roof. It’s simple sufficient to make hydrogen by electrolysis, it’s more durable to seize it, and it takes a number of effort to pressurize and retailer it within the quantities wanted to gasoline a automotive. None of those are unattainable steps, however there are literally thousands of photo voltaic installers, and never a lot in the way in which of house hydrogen pumps (Honda tried it before, utilizing a house’s methane fuel strains to supply hydrogen relatively than electrolysis, nevertheless it didn’t get anyplace – we spied the defunct demo unit within the nook of the car parking zone).

So to replenish this automotive, you’re going to go to hydrogen stations, which thus far are getting 95% of their hydrogen from methane. Examine this to ~36% of California’s electricity coming from methane, and dropping.

And why are we evaluating to California particularly? As a result of that’s the one place the e:FCEV can be accessible. Honda says the explanation for it’s because California is the one state with a sturdy community of retail hydrogen stations.

That is true, however California is additionally the state that requires Honda and different producers to adjust to promoting a sure share of zero emission autos or face penalties. This has influenced automakers, together with Honda, to launch EVs as California-only autos previously (typically paired with emphasis on the automobile’s qualification for a carpool sticker – the e:FCEV qualifies, by the way in which).

California’s hydrogen stations are largely centered round its two main inhabitants facilities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with sparse protection in The Lands Between.

California Hydrogen Stations Map, from the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Partnership

These stations will fill your hydrogen automobile faster than an EV on a DC quick charger. Gasoline cell advocates say that it solely takes about 5 minutes for a fill-up.

In apply, it typically takes longer, relying on ambient temperatures, how lately the station has been utilized by one other automotive, and whether or not or not there’s a months-long supply disruption which meant half the stations in the state were shut down.

That disruption appears to be over now, however only one month in the past Shell determined to shut down its hydrogen fueling stations within the state, which most likely doesn’t really feel nice in case your native filling station is all of a sudden gone and the following one is probably miles away.

Honda’s philosophy – don’t put all eggs in a single basket

Regardless of these challenges with hydrogen, Honda reminds us that that’s why this automobile is a plug-in hybrid – within the occasion that one thing like this occurs, it might nonetheless be powered with the battery, and most of the people can nonetheless use it for his or her day by day duties with 29 miles of battery-electric vary, which could be simply charged at any degree 2 charger, and even degree 1 in a pinch.

This retains with a philosophy the corporate repeated a number of instances – that it doesn’t wish to commit the whole lot to BEV, like the remainder of the business appears to be doing, pondering that there are purposes to which gasoline cells could be extra suited than BEV.

Honda is utilizing previous Readability gasoline cell stacks as stationary energy items for buildings

To be frank, this can be a appropriate assertion. There are purposes the place hydrogen could be a greater gasoline. Heavy responsibility and/or lengthy haul purposes particularly would profit from larger power density and sooner refueling, and the draw back of sparse hydrogen infrastructure wouldn’t be as unhealthy for autos with more-fixed routes and deliberate depot stops (plus, the federal authorities just laid out a plan to support this). On this vein, Honda is working on bringing hydrogen to commercial trucks, which is a worthwhile effort.

However it’s generally thought that one of many purposes the place hydrogen is not a greater gasoline is in shopper autos. That may be a thought that we right here at Electrek are likely to share. And in reality, Honda’s CEO Toshihiro Mibe shares it too.

Honda said to us repeatedly that the case for hydrogen would get higher in the long run, even in shopper autos, however I don’t see this being the case. Hydrogen infrastructure is sparse but, will not be cheaper or sooner to construct than plugs, there isn’t as a lot effort being put into it, there isn’t as a lot demand for it, and whereas the price of a gasoline cell stack is more likely to come down fairly quickly (Honda has introduced prices down 2/3 on this era alone, a powerful feat), the development strains simply don’t seem like they’ll attain the purpose the place FCEV is the appropriate alternative.

Honda’s next-gen gasoline cell stack is 2x as sturdy, however 2/3 cheaper to supply than the earlier era, although the e:FCEV maintains the identical guarantee because the Readability

In actual fact, we journalists requested a number of alternative ways, and Honda declined to remark every time, about what the worth of this automobile could be, what it prices to supply, when or whether or not Honda plans to make a revenue on it, and so forth. All we bought was that it might be lease-only and a few quantity of free hydrogen – which prices ~$36/kg proper now, which is a gasoline value of 47c/mi, approx. equal power value to a 10mpg fuel automobile in CA proper now – could be included within the lease.

Whereas the query of Honda’s value to supply these doesn’t really matter (for customers, value is what issues, and for Honda there could be different issues too), the underlying implication of our questions was: are you severe about this program? Is it going to final long-term? Is it actually a part of your marketing strategy? Will it develop quick sufficient? Or is all of this only a science venture?

In spite of everything, Honda instructed us it has been engaged on hydrogen autos for 40 years now, and but that progress has yielded a automobile program which plans to promote round 300 autos in California per 12 months.

300 autos.

In California.

In a 12 months.

Final 12 months, Tesla, an organization which has existed for 20 years and been promoting volume-produced autos for 12, bought 230,589 autos in California – one out of each eight vehicles bought within the state. It bought the best-selling automobile within the state and the second-best-selling automobile within the state. All of those autos had been battery-electric autos.

In the identical 12 months, Honda bought zero battery-electric autos in CA. That can change this 12 months with the Ultium-based Prologue, which Honda plans to begin promoting in massive quantity numbers, however the e:FCEV will stay hand-built, in the identical Ohio facility that made the hybrid NSX.

We don’t doubt that Honda will discover 300 clients for this automobile, however in a state with over 30 million vehicles, it’s a rounding error on a rounding error. Honda needs this program to assist create demand for hydrogen, so that folks will construct filling stations. It has invested in First Aspect, a hydrogen fueling startup, to this finish. Nevertheless it didn’t decide to constructing its personal hydrogen stations, in contrast to we’ve seen some other companies do when pushing a new fuel type (that appears to have turned out pretty ok).

Worse but, I’ve written an identical paragraph earlier than, about the Mazda MX-30. That was a small-production EV from a Japanese firm that was solely accessible in California (although a PHEV model of it was accessible in Europe) and didn’t meet the second for the promote it was coming into. I can’t assist however see the comparisons.

Honda says that it needs to be carbon impartial by 2050, with 100% of its new automobile gross sales being electrical by 2040 (although that can have to be sooner in California, and other states, and Europe). By 2030, it plans to supply 30 new BEVs globally and 15 new BEVs in North America.

However the local weather disaster is occurring now, and Honda talked about a number of instances to us that it’s the largest inside combustion engine producer on this planet. Which means that it might make the largest optimistic impression by altering quickly, and has a excessive accountability to take action, given its merchandise’ outsize fraction of worldwide emissions.

So it’s actually not the time for testing the market, for making an attempt to construct demand, for pushing a know-how that’s clearly not the trail ahead in shopper autos. Everybody else has moved on, and BEVs are promoting within the tens of millions, monthly, and Honda continues to be futzing round with science tasks.

The business, and the world, want larger efforts than this. California-only, lease-only autos accessible within the tons of are so 2012.

However at the very least the Prologue exists, an EV that can be bought in important numbers, and with a extra EV-focused philosophy behind it – much less of a direct translation from a fuel hybrid automobile. Honda (along with Nissan) does appear extra life like about EVs than some of its Japanese counterparts, notably underneath Mibe’s management.

And so, all of because of this we battle to seek out the significance of the e:FCEV program. Whereas a plug-in gasoline cell automobile is a neat first that does supply higher synergies than a gasoline plug-in hybrid (and admittedly, we’re amazed no one considered this earlier than, it appears apparent looking back), the e:FCEV continues to be steeped within the philosophy of fuel autos, and of dipping one’s toe within the water, when everybody else on the pool social gathering has been having a good time for a decade now.

The Honda CR-V e:FCEV can be accessible later this 12 months as a lease-only automobile, in California solely. Pricing has not but been introduced.

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