2018 Honda Clarity Fuel Cell at hydrogen fueling station [photo: Chris Baccus]
When marketing executive Chris Baccus leased a 2015 Fiat 500e three years ago, he intended to keep his 2007 BMW 335i as a "fun car," and use the electric Fiat just for commuting.
Within six months, he'd sold the BMW altogether.
Part of his interest in the Fiat, he admitted, came from an article about a group of race-car enthusiasts who collectively bought more than 100 of the little electric minicars—and he quickly came to understand why.
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Baccus called the Fiat 500e "a great car" that he "really enjoyed driving," one that made it a pleasure to drive every day.
But, he admitted, "it wasn't a car for everyone"—in particular his spouse, who simply didn't like riding in it.
He wanted a bigger car that was still an alternative-fuel vehicle, and he was ready for one that wasn't 100-percent electric.
2007 BMW 335i and 2015 Fiat 500e electric car in driveway, May 2015 [photo: Chris Baccus]
With a lease expiring early this year, Baccus turned to figuring out what car he'd lease next—and how the new vehicle would fit into his new circumstances.
Last June, when he moved from a house with off-street parking to a rented condo, the building owner wasn't open to installing an electric-car charging station.
While he has access to a charging station at work, it's shared with others. "On some days," he said, "I'd have to email a coworker to ask when they were done charging to let me know."
Also, running costs in pricey Southern California always matter. Baccus built a spreadsheet of monthly costs for alternative green cars, from a high-fuel-efficiency conventional Honda Civic through hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen fuel-cell cars.
The top two cars for lowest costs per month were the Toyota Mirai ($406) and Honda Clarity Fuel Cell ($410), against the $416 for the basic Civic sedan and a whopping $530 for an Audi A3 e-tron plug-in hybrid hatchback.
"The deals on the Honda Clarity and Toyota Mirai were just too good to pass up," Baccus said, "plus I wanted to try hydrogen and see how that would go."
Spreadsheet comparing monthly costs of new-car leases in Southern California [photo: Chris Baccus]
Plug-in hybrids, he explained, were less practical choices because they would suffer from the same lack of access to charging as a battery-electric vehicle would.
Baccus said he chose the Clarity Fuel Cell over the Mirai because he liked the Clarity's looks, and especially its interior design, better.
Also, he was far closer to a Honda dealer certified to work on hydrogen vehicles versus his nearest similar Toyota dealer.
A complete refill of the Clarity's 5 kilograms of hydrogen fuel, compressed to 10,000 psi in its two tanks, runs around $80. That gives an EPA-rated range of 366 miles.
But, Honda provides the first $15,000 in fuel and 20,000 miles a year of driving at no charge, via a special charge card Baccus uses at the pumps. (Toyota does the same for Mirai lessees, though only to 12,000 miles a year.)
2015 Fiat 500e electric car recharging [photo: Chris Baccus
The $369 monthly lease, including the fuel allowance, is a competitive price for a premium mid-size sedan with numerous luxury features.
With fuel free for all the miles he expects to cover and California's $5,000 clean-car rebate, Baccus calculated, his overall monthly cost for the hydrogen Clarity came in lower than a $169 monthly lease on a Honda Civic compact sedan.
Fueling up isn't an issue: "I have one station next to my kids’ school that I pass every morning," he said, "and another across from my work."
After a weekend, Baccus said, he's "really enjoying" the Clarity Fuel Cell.
It's full of technology the Fiat didn't have, but drives "like an pure electric—quiet with a lot of instant power—that has with better range."
And, he said, it eliminates the need for his family to have access to a charging station at home.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said maintenance is included in the monthly lease price. It is not.