A Los Angeles family became the first in the United States to lease a hydrogen-powered car from Honda Motor Co. as the company introduces consumers to the zero-emission technology.
Honda, which already leases nonpolluting FCX fuel cell cars to several cities, said the initial consumer test was critical toward eventual commercial viability.

Jon and Sandy Spallino will pay $500 a month for the two-year lease.

The family of four will use the FCX for commuting to and from work and school, shopping and other family driving, and give feedback to Honda on the car’s performance.

Proponents of hydrogen fuel, which produces electricity and water vapor when it burns with oxygen, believe it eventually will compete with gasoline, but high costs, the need for more research and scarcity of refueling stations are barriers.

Honda’s FCX is the only zero-emission fuel cell vehicle certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California regulators for regular daily use.

Jon Spallino said he has been driving a natural gas-powered Honda Civic GX, “not because I save 20 cents a gallon on the cost of gas, but because I think dependence on foreign oil is a dangerous thing. I think what comes out of a tailpipe is important, and I think oil at $60 a barrel is not a great thing.”

Hydrogen fuel can be made from a variety of sources, including oil.

The 2005 FCX can travel 190 miles on a tank of hydrogen and its mileage is rated as high as 62 miles per gallon.

Honda acknowledges that large-scale commercialization of the FCX is unlikely for some time. “This is a critical step for the auto industry … the need for a hydrogen refueling structure remains a key challenge,” said John Mendel, senior vice president, automotive operations, for American Honda.

In April, Honda began limited sales of a device that allows consumers to refuel their natural gas-powered Civics at home. “The same kind of breakthrough will probably be needed here,” Mendel said, referring to fuel cell vehicles.

Read more.