Honda’s hydrogen car is an engineering achievement. It’s a technological wonder, a proof of concept for a technology that surely has some sort of future, albeit a hazy one. But it is currently untenable as a consumer product, with an unreliable fueling network that is only available in California (where it’s also absurdly expensive), and a lease-only buying scheme that obscures just how expensive it really is. Honda promised at the launch that the problems are being worked out and that hydrogen will play a key role in the future of transportation.

I am talking, of course, about the 2002 Honda FCX. Or maybe I’m talking about the 2008 Honda FCX Clarity. Or the 2017 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell. But the same is also true for the 2025 Honda CR-V e:FCEV, its new plug-in hybrid fuel cell vehicle. The names change, but the story doesn’t. In the 22 years since Honda first leased the FCX to the city of Los Angeles, the argument for a hydrogen car hasn’t gotten better. It’s gotten much worse.

Gallery: 2025 Honda CR-V e:FCEV

In 2002 and 2008, the concept of long-range travel in a hydrogen-powered light vehicle was compelling. The world was vaguely aware of the need for a more sustainable form of transportation, and the concept of a “long-range, practical EV” was unheard of. But in 2024, the CR-V e:FCEV’s 270-mile range would make it pretty much average among 2WD compact electric SUVs. Honda’s own (if you can call it that) Prologue can cover 296 miles on a full battery, and can refill that range outside of California.

So it’s best not to consider the CR-V e:FCEV as a normal plug-in hybrid because it doesn’t fill the same role. A RAV4 Prime is designed for zero-emission operation around town, with a gas-burner for longer drives and times when you don’t have access to power. Have your electric commuting, and your road trips too.

The e:FCEV is different. Both pieces of its powertrain are zero-emission, and neither works for most road trips yet. The 29-mile range you get on a full battery is designed to handle most of your daily commuting, with 240 miles of hydrogen-powered range to cover longer days. The idea is to reduce reliance on hydrogen alone, so a gap in filling stations or a fuel supply crisis doesn’t brick the car. 

2025 Honda CR-V e:FCEV

This is Honda’s attempt to plug the gap until hydrogen infrastructure becomes more reliable and available. But the company struggles to explain who this car would be good for. Jay Joseph, vice president of sustainability and business development at American Honda, said it was targeted at “Californian buyers with access to retail hydrogen.” I’ll expand that definition. It’s for people in San Fransisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento who want a zero-emission vehicle with a 300-mile range but do not want that vehicle to be fully electric, for some reason.

Buyers must also be comfortable with hydrogen prices, which are currently in the $35-a-kg range, making the hydrogen CR-V over three times as expensive to fuel as a conventional, non-hybrid CR-V. Filling the CR-V’s fuel tank from empty would run you about $140 for 240 miles of range. That's also assuming you can get it, which isn't always easy.  There will surely be a free fuel offer, as there always is with hydrogen cars, but the market for this product is tiny. Honda’s hand-building CR-V e:FCEVs at the same factory where it built the second-generation NSX, and expects to sell “north of 300 units” annually, per Joseph. 

2025 Honda CR-V e:FCEV

The CR-V e:FCEV can export up to 1.5 kW of power through its charge port. 

So like the Clarity Fuel Cell, and the FCX Clarity before it, and the FCX before that, this is more of a tech demonstrator than a consumer product. If a few hundred enthusiasts want to lease one to help support the development of the technology, great. But the primary goal for Honda is to show people what’s possible with hydrogen and continue developing both the supply of retail hydrogen and the demand for it.

The first goal is key, because—as the company has continuously learned over 22 years of experimenting—it cannot create a hydrogen market alone, and certainly not through light-duty vehicles by themselves. The company wants to convince governments, fuel suppliers, industrial customers, trucking firms, and others to invest in the future of hydrogen. It showed us a backup generator for its data center that’s built from previous-generation Clarity Fuel Cell stacks, and touted its deal with JAXA—Japan’s NASA—to develop hydrogen infrastructure in space. It’s working with Isuzu to test a prototype semi truck on public roads in Japan this year, and will show a U.S.-market Class 8 truck proof of concept sometime soon.

2025 Honda CR-V e:FCEV

A CR-V e:FCEV in front of one of Honda's hydrogen back-up generators, which uses Clarity Fuel Cell stacks.

The possibilities are endless. The reality is disappointing. The economics do not work, and they won’t any time soon. Honda has not announced pricing for the CR-V e:FCEV yet, and when it does it will announce what will almost certainly be a highly subsidized lease. The Clarity Fuel Cell went for $369 a month for 36 months, with $2,499 due at signing when it was introduced back in 2017. That meant the customer paid $15,783 over three years. The deal included $15,000 of free fuel, and 21 days of free luxury rental cars for road trips. When you’re charging $15,000 and giving $15,000 of perks on top of the car, it’s clear that you can’t be in it for the money. And as the automakers have also learned with EVs, the fueling partners just are not stepping up on their own; no longer can car companies expect Shell and Exxon to take care of their biggest challenges. 

The free fuel is necessary because hydrogen prices are three times higher than Honda’s long-term target for a solid market: $12 per kilogram. The fuel makes hydrogen vehicles far more expensive to operate than gas ones, even accounting for hydrogen’s higher efficiency. Their fuel tanks have to be much bigger, which means the CR-V loses roughly a quarter of it’s cargo area compared to an internal-combustion model. 

2025 Honda CR-V e:FCEV

And Honda absolutely will not disclose anything about how much more expensive fuel cell vehicles are to build. We tried asking about rough ideas. Or aAbout the previous-generation vehicle’s margin. Or any comparison they could make that would shine any light on how far we are from cost parity.

“You can ask the same question multiple ways and we can continue to not answer it,” Joseph said, during a tense Q&A session with journalists at the e:FCEV launch. The tension had nothing to do with Joseph, or the car, or the event, but with the familiar frustrations of trying to report on hydrogen car development.

We are told that the company is aware of the problems, but that it’s not their job to build infrastructure, or that it is and they’ve committed some unknown sum that will be used to build three more stations in the handful of cities where these cars even exist. They talk about cleanliness, and carbon and never mention that pretty much all of our hydrogen is generated using fossil fuels. We’re given vague promises about things getting cheaper, and more accessible, but no timeline for such things happening. Then they introduce a new generation, and the process repeats. 

2025 Honda CR-V e:FCEV

The e:FCEV has "charge," "save," "EV," and "auto" modes to tell the car how you want it to manage the traction battery. 

These companies are not misleading us. This technology is going somewhere. Ask most transportation analysts and executives and they’ll all say that commercial vehicles, long-haul trucks and the like will need a renewable fuel source that can be refilled quickly without causing long-term deterioration. Hydrogen continues to show remarkable promise there. No one wants to have to juice a semi truck with a 1200kW charger the size of a house. In a zero-emissions world, it’s a piece of the puzzle.

We do not yet live in a zero-emissions world, though. We live in one where fossil fuels are cheap, available and trusted. Electric vehicles still have to overcome hesitation and adoption problems, but they were spurred along by an undeniable truth: EVs are far, far cheaper to run than internal combustion vehicles. Hydrogen vehicles are not. Nobody wants to buy them until they are, and they’re not going to get cheaper until people buy them. The words “chicken” and “egg” end up getting thrown around a lot. Same with EVs, but there’s electricity everywhere. 

2025 Honda CR-V e:FCEV

Honda added a removable shelf attachment to turn the cargo area's hump into a flat load floor. 

That world of hydrogen trucks and power storage facilities will likely come to pass. If and when fossil fuels get banned, and if and when we start generating hydrogen in a clean way, it’s our best option for high-density, quick-refilling renewable fuel. But Honda was 30 or 40 years early when it started on this problem back in the early 2000s, and it’s still early now. In the meantime, the entire electric vehicle revolution has started and reached maturity, and Honda missed the first boat. So there is some lingering frustration, some feeling that if the company hadn’t spent so much brainpower on chasing light-duty hydrogen adoption it could be more competitive today.

Honda executives admit they don’t know when this will be commercially viable at scale. The company can’t predict the future, and neither can I. I can’t tell you when or how hydrogen will become economically viable. All I know is that, for the time being, I don’t have to care about it. Amongst all the vague promises and the dodged questions, there is one truth: We won’t have a hydrogen revolution any time soon. 

Got a tip for us? Email: