Honda hopes Hollywood glitz shines up fuel cell car

Honda CEO Takeo Fukui gets behind the wheel of Honda's FCX Clarity fuel cell sedan.
UPDATED: 6/16/08 11:30 a.m. EDT TAKANEZAWA, Japan — Honda Motor Co. is hoping a little Hollywood star power will add sparkle to its new fuel cell vehicle and make the FCX Clarity the greenest car on the red carpet.

Actresses Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Harris, as well as film producer Ron Yerxa, are among the first five customers tapped to lease the garnet red no-emissions sedan.

While the car is rich with public-relations opportunities, it is still largely experimental. Honda expects to lease only about a half dozen in the United States this year, and about 200 in both the United States and Japan over the next three years.

The first car rolled off the line here today and will hit the streets of southern California next month. Yerxa, known for his work on “Cold Mountain,” will get the first delivery through Honda of Santa Monica, one of three dealerships chosen to handle the leasing.

Keenly aware of the image coup scored by Toyota when celebrities rolled up to the Oscars in the fuel-efficient Prius hybird, Honda intentionally chose stars among its first Clarity customers.

“We wanted a few celebrities because at this time it’s important to spread the message,” said Stephen Ellis, Honda’s manager of fuel cell marketing, here at a press event.

Yerxa and Harris were flown out to Honda’s New Model Center north of Tokyo to attend a line off ceremony attended by President Takeo Fukui. But also on hand was Jon Spallino of Redondo Beach, Calif., a purported example of the hoi polloi lining up for the car.

“I’m going to take it to places to show it off,” said Harris, whose roles included the bride-turned-terrorist in the television spy drama “24,” “That’s what it’s all about.”

Honda says it has received 40,000 inquiries about the FCX Clarity since unveiling the car at last year’s Los Angeles motor show. It has narrowed the list of hopefuls to around 150 people who meet such criteria as living near the three main fueling stations.

Dealers were also handpicked to execute the three-year, $600 a month leases, partly for their proximity to pumps.

Regular six-month tune-ups will be done at American Honda headquarters, where they have a “hydrogen safe” facility equipped with special sensors, ventilation and non-combustible lighting.

Rounding out the dealers are Power Honda Costa Mesa and Scott Robinson Honda in Torrance.

The FCX Clarity runs on electricity generated by running hydrogen through a fuel cell. The car is also equipped with a lithium ion battery for propulsion.

Hydrogen is sold by the kilogram, but pump prices in Southern California run between the equivalent of $5-$10 a gallon, Ellis said. The car gets the gasoline equivalent of about 74 miles per gallon.

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com

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