Honda has confounded green-motoring analysts by announcing that it will offer a hydrogen-powered car for general sale in 2008, years earlier than expected.
The car in question - the third generation of Honda's FCX fuel-cell demonstrator platform - was always expected to debut next year, but until now the plan had been to lease it to users in a motoring beta test. Now Honda has amazed the motoring world by saying that the car will go on sale in the US and Japan for just £50,000 - despite the scarcity of hydrogen filling stations.
"When the car was invented, countries weren't full of petrol stations," Honda chief exec Takeo Fukui said. "When the demand is there [the hydrogen economy] will happen.”
Honda is trying to get more hydrogen pumps deployed, but also has another trick up its sleeve: the planned Home Energy Station. This might be bought by FCX owners in future, and hooked up to their domestic gas supply to produce hot water and electricity for the house as well as hydrogen for the car. The Energy Station isn't ready yet, however.
Honda's great rival Toyota sees the future of motoring completely differently. Its Prius hybrid has now been eclipsed in the fuel-economy stakes by lightweight conventional cars, but it plans to regain the initiative by the use of so-called "plug-in hybrid" cars, which run mainly on battery power drawn from the grid but carry a petrol engine for long journeys.
A lot of people like the plug-in hybrid idea, including the eggheads at Google. But Fukui was scathing, suggesting that the engineering of such cars was foolish, and that only the powerful American coal lobby would benefit from their widespread use.
"Carrying a [mains rechargeable] battery [as well as an engine] is dead weight," he told the Times.
"It is highly political," said Fukui, "but, technically speaking it's nonsense." ®