Last month, Hyundai said that the initial deliveries of the Tucson Fuel Cell vehicles in California meant that, "For the first time, retail consumers can now put a mass-produced, federally-certified hydrogen fuel cell vehicle in their driveways." But try telling that to Jon Spallino.
In 2005, Honda leased a hydrogen fuel cell FCX, a small hatchback, to the Spallino family (as far as we know, he parked it in his driveway). The company did the same thing again in 2008 with the FCX Clarity, a sleek new design based on the FCX Concept, and others signed for the H2 ride as well, including celebrities. No matter how you slice it, Honda has been in the fuel cell delivery market for almost a decade now. Just look at this. Or this. Or this. Oh, and other automakers (General Motors in Project Driveway in 2006 and Mercdes-Benz with the F-Cell in 2010, for example) have delivered fuel cell vehicles in the US as part of short-term test programs.
But let's get back to Hyundai's claim. There's little question that the first delivery of a "fuel cell vehicle for the US market" has already taken place (and they were federally certified, too), which means that the debate revolves around the definition of mass-produced and whether "mass production" is about a number or about the process? Let's investigate below.
Related GalleryHonda FCX Clarity Job 1
First, lets review Honda's bona fides. We can start with the official version of Honda's fuel cell history, which is missing the pertinent detail that Honda build the Clarity on a dedicated assembly line and established a small network of three dealerships to lease the FCX Clarity in 2008. All of the FCX Clarity vehicles in customer hands in the US were leased through these dealerships. Sure, Honda started with hand-built stacks in its hydrogen vehicles, but went to automated control of some parts and components with series production.
Or, as Honda's Steve Elllis put it to AutoblogGreen regarding Hyundai's fuel cell deliveries: "This was exactly as prescribed by the creation of the California Fuel Cell Partnership. It's the very essence of 'co-op-itition.' We at Honda, as do many others, continue to push forward on many technologies, both the battery and the fuel cell. And society is the beneficiary." Then he added, "It is good to see others doing today what we've been doing since 2008."
"It is good to see others doing today what we've been doing since 2008" – Steve Ellis, Honda
Now, how does Hyundai compare? The Tucson Fuel Cell and the gasoline version are built in the same factory in Ulsan, Korea. Body-in-white and related chassis components for both versions are assembled in this plant and components for the fuel cell model are added from a spur line assembly process. So, it certainly fits the mass production definition.
According to the official monthly sales numbers, Honda has leased just 44 Clarity fuel cell vehicles in the US since 2008. Where Hyundai might have the advantage is that it
Honda has leased just 44 Clarity fuel cell vehicles in the US since 2008.
UPDATE: The number of Tucson Fuel Cell vehicles destined to be built and leased has been corrected. We regret the error.