You would never guess that Jon Spallino drives what is probably the most expensive car in this city, known for its automotive excess. Or that he is the world’s most technologically advanced commuter.

“When the cars pull up to me, the Porsches and the Bentleys and all that, I just sort of say, well, that’s nice, but for what this costs I could buy 10 of those,” said Spallino, while driving up the Route 405 freeway from his office in Irvine, California, toward his home in Redondo Beach.

Spallino was at the wheel of his silver Honda FCX, a car worth about $1 million that looks like a cross between a compact – say, a Volkswagen Golf – and a cinder block.

The FCX is powered by hydrogen fuel cells, the futuristic technology that many automakers see as an eventual solution to the world’s energy woes, though the viability of the technology is a subject of vigorous debate inside and outside the auto industry.

In one of the more unusual experiments in the auto industry’s history, Spallino – a 40-year-old executive at a California construction and engineering company – and his wife, Sandy, have been leasing the FCX since July, for $500 a month.

The Spallinos, with their daughters Adrianna, 11, and Anna, 9, “aren’t just the first fuel-cell family on their block,” as one Honda ad recently put it. “They’re the first in the world.”

So grandiose is the experiment that Honda has made arrangements with a distributor of hydrogen to have a refueling station built near the Spallinos’ house. But it’s not that they can use it: the local fire department, wary of this elemental zeppelin gas, has yet to allow the station to open.

So the car is being refueled at Honda’s U.S. headquarters in Torrance, California. Honda is also working on upgrading an existing station that is near Spallino’s office, and California is financing refueling stations to form what is called a “hydrogen highway” in the state.

Honda has been a pioneer in bringing advanced technologies, like hybrid electric cars, to consumers. While every major automaker has built a fuel-cell prototype, Honda’s is the only one that has been crash-tested.

By Danny Hakim

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