- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

Nearly every automaker is feverishly working on mechanisms called fuel cells that use hydrogen to generate electricity to propel a motor vehicle while emitting only water vapor.

The problem is hydrogen-powered fuel cells remain well into the future. How far is the subject of heated debate.

General Motors’ researchers insist they’ll have workable, affordable fuel cells developed by 2010 — perhaps not on the road but at least in theory — and many will be operational by 2020, the automaker says.

Other industry experts predict fuel cells won’t be available in great numbers until the 2030 to 2050 time frame.

“Eventually we’ll get to hydrogen, but it will be difficult, at best, for everybody involved,” said Gunnar Lindstrom, senior manager of alternative fuels, Honda (North America).

He’s guessing hydrogen fuel cells are at least 15 years away. Technical issues, including the storage of the hydrogen, a hydrogen infrastructure, especially ones that use renewable sources not petroleum, and high costs of fuel cells are obstacles yet to be overcome.

In the meantime, automakers are searching for interim steps to ease dependence on petroleum, improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. And unlike hydrogen-powered fuel cells, seen universally as the ultimate answer, the interim steps appear all over the map.

Honda is traveling a lonely road; that of natural gas. In fact, Honda is the only manufacturer currently offering a dedicated natural gas-powered passenger car to the public in North America.

The automaker recently announced it will begin limited retail sales of its natural gas-powered Civic GX sedan paired with a new home-refueling appliance called Phill.

“Natural gas is extremely efficient, it’s near zero emission, and it is primarily domestic. It’s a home run,” said Honda’s Mr. Lindstrom. And, natural gas is already piped into millions of homes across the country

for heating.

The Civic GX is virtually identical to the Civic LX sedan, offering a similar array of safety and convenience features including dual front and side air bags, anti-lock brakes, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with in-dash CD player, and power locks, windows and mirrors.

The four-passenger Civic GX is powered by a 1.7-liter, four-cylinder engine using natural gas as fuel. The engine is coupled with a fuel-efficient continuously variable automatic transmission. It has a base price of $21,760.

Honda boasts that the Civic GX is the cleanest internal combustion vehicle ever certified by the EPA and, with the introduction of home refueling, has the lowest fuel cost per mile of any new vehicle.

With a driving range between 200 and 220 miles, the Civic GX is the only vehicle distributed nationwide that is certified to the stringent EPA Tier 2-Bin 2 emissions standard and it meets California’s Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicle standards.

The GX was the first vehicle to earn AT-PZEV status in California and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recently named the Civic GX as the “Greenest Vehicle of the Year” in overall environmental performance, ahead of even hybrid vehicles.

Not stopping at gas stations is a huge plus. You refill the tank at home using the Phill, manufactured and marketed by Toronto-based FuelMaker Corp. using your existing natural gas supply.

Phill can be mounted to a garage wall either indoors or outdoors and allow a natural gas-powered vehicle to be refueled overnight directly from a homeowner’s existing natural gas supply line.

It is designed to offer ease of operation with simple “start” and “stop” buttons and will automatically turn itself off when the tank is full.

Phill must be installed by a trained technician authorized by FuelMaker.

It is leased through 17 authorized Honda Civic GX California dealers in San Diego, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Sacramento and San Francisco for a cost of approximately $34 to $79 per month (plus installation), depending on the region.

The federal government currently offers a $2,000 tax deduction on the purchase of a new alternative fuel vehicle, and local incentives and rebates may also be available to some consumers.

Drivers in California and nine other states also qualify for high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane access for solo commuters.

For the past seven years, Honda has marketed the Civic GX to fleet operators who have dedicated fueling stations. A limited number of retail customers also have purchased the Civic GX, relying on the existing public natural gas refueling network.

By offering the Civic GX with the Phill home refueling appliance, Honda is expanding the appeal.

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