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L.A. Is First Customer for Honda's Fuel-Cell Cars

October 08, 2002|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The city of Los Angeles on Monday became the first retail customer in the U.S. for fuel-cell-powered passenger vehicles, announcing that it will lease five of the hydrogen-fueled, zero-emission cars from Torrance-based American Honda Motor Co. by the end of the year.

The deal was announced by Mayor James K. Hahn, who called it an important step in the development of fuel-cell technology.

Tests such as the Honda-Los Angeles program are considered critical for putting the vehicles on the road and subjecting them to real-world stresses, said Tom Elliott, executive vice president of American Honda.

City employees will begin learning immediately how to operate and service the Honda FCX fuel-cell car, which has been certified by the California Air Resources Board and the federal Environmental Protection Agency as a zero-emission vehicle.

The FCX has a range of up to 220 miles, seating for four and the performance characteristics of a four-cylinder Honda Civic. City employees will use the vehicles as regular pool cars and for commuting. Plans for refueling systems are being developed.

Almost every major automaker is developing fuel-cell-powered vehicles, and most have announced plans to begin field tests over the next several years.

Torrance-based Toyota Motor Sales America, the U.S. arm of Japanese automotive giant Toyota Motor Corp., earlier this year said it will sell or lease a sizable number of fuel-cell vehicles to private and government entities in North America by year's end, but so far it has not identified its customers. And DaimlerChrysler officials in Germany said Monday that the company will place 60 fuel-cell cars with customers in Europe, Asia and the U.S. for field tests beginning next year.

Fuel-cell-powered vehicles convert hydrogen to electricity in an electro-chemical process. The Honda model has water vapor as its only tailpipe emission. The electricity then powers an electric motor that propels the vehicle.

Unlike battery-powered electric cars, fuel-cell vehicles do not need to be recharged from the electric power grid. They do, however, need a steady supply of fuel-grade hydrogen, and most fuel-cell development specialists say it will be a decade or more before a nationwide retail hydrogen fuel system could be readied.

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