Honda's new FCX clarity feels like a perfectly ordinary car—which may well be the most shocking thing about it. It looks and drives like a run-of-the-mill four-seat sedan. Slip behind the wheel and press the pedal with your foot, and the car accelerates with satisfying punch. But after a few minutes of cruising, you'll notice that something is missing. The only audible engine noise is a faint whir, so faint that you can actually hear the tires swishing along the asphalt.
That's because the Clarity is a hydrogen-fuel-cell car, one of the most advanced in the world. The once bulky fuel-cell stack that supplies energy to the engine has been reduced in size by half over the past decade while increasing the power output by 50 percent. It's the first to be certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the first to be delivered to retail customers (albeit on a leasing basis). As for CO2 emissions, the only exhaust it produces is a trickle of water. And perhaps most important of all is what stands behind it: A state-of-the-art factory that's ready to produce thousands of the vehicles once the market's ready. Most of Honda's competitors, by contrast, are still bringing concept cars to the auto shows.