Honda Clarity Electric: Summing Up EV at Honda [Opinion]

Honda announces details on the Clarity Electric as part of the Clarity Family. But with only 89 miles of range, should we have expected more?

When new, advanced technology comes along, we often give it some leeway for some of its impracticalities or design shortcomings. Early flatscreen TV’s provided awesome detail but they weighed so much it posed a risk to mount on your wall. iPhones have been a part our our lives for years but until recently, getting one wet was always a worry.

The Honda Insight hybrid was technologically advanced keeping the conversation away from its styling

Honda’s own 1999 Insight provided amazing fuel economy but was packaged in a small and aero-focused tear-drop shape. Early adopting consumers will often forego such concerns while mainstream customers will take a more critical approach.

The EV market isn’t necessarily relying on early adopters anymore and thus puts the Clarity Electric in an intriguing position.

Although subsidies are in effect, consumers are expecting fewer and fewer compromises as the market matures. Here is where the Clarity Electric will face its biggest critics. At 89 miles, it doesn’t provide exceptional range nor is this sedan expected to offer any blistering performance numbers. In most consumers’ eyes, it’s simply a spacious and comfortable electric car. To Honda’s point, it is the only large electric sedan offered at an affordable price.

But maybe worst of all, it stuck on a platform with awkward proportions and radical styling that was originally design for the futuristic world of Fuel-Cell powertrains. Charged with packaging hydrogen tanks, fuel cell stack, battery, and motor, the equally futuristic styling was justifiable. However, with the Clarity Electric’s average performing electric powertrain, the styling is just misleading and the car seems to be a technological let down.

So what gives? After all this time, why didn’t Honda come out with a segment leading car?

In short, Honda has a pragmatic approach towards EVs. Not alone in it’s belief, Honda has described hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and, further out, fuel-cell powertrains as the most viable technology for improving emissions for today and tomorrow – EV’s still have a ways to go.

2017 Honda Clarity – Proportions necessary for the Clarity Fuel Cell powertrain aren’t ideal for balance

So it can be argued that the Clarity Electric is an “emissions credit/ compliance car” emphasized by the fact that it is only available for lease in California and Oregon. The monthly lease of $269 gets you a fully loaded Touring trim with LED headlights and taillights, smart entry, navigation, premium audio, a full suite of Honda Sense, and environmentally responsible materials. In true Honda form, it provides significant value.

With a wheelbase similar to the Accord, the back seat is spacious enough for three adults
Feature loaded interior with environmentally friendly materials provides value

Later this year, we will see the Clarity Plug-in which is more inline with Honda’s envision of a future with multifaceted powertrains. Here we will see the car get over 40 miles on electric alone – well ahead of Toyota’s offering and matching that of the smaller Chevrolet Volt – and it will be available in all 50 states.

Jeff Conrad, Senior VP of American Honda, stated that this 3 in 1 approach (Fuel Cell, Electric, and Plug-In all on one platform) is aimed at accelerating the deployment of advanced electrified powertrain technology as it brings down the development and capital cost associated with the platform. Furthermore, it adds value to the manufacturing side as they continue to develop more efficient techniques to produce greater volumes of electrified vehicles.

Today’s automotive industry is in such a state of flux as far as which powertrain automakers should be spending to development, Honda’s establishment of the Clarity line-up should be seen not as an individual car, like the original Insight, but as a representation of the technological state of affairs within Honda. We shouldn’t take the Clarity Electric as a misstep, instead, view it as a placeholder within the Clarity lineup for things to come.


See the video review of the Clarity Fuel Cell: