2018 Honda Clarity PHEV revisited: is this the car Bill Clinton wanted built?

2018 Honda Clarity PHEV Plugged into L1 in Corte Madera, Calif.

2018 Honda Clarity PHEV Plugged into L1 in Corte Madera, Calif.

Enlarge Photo

With new stewardship comes new perspective—sometimes on old things.

Here at Green Car Reports, we have driven the 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid a couple of times. New reviewers sometimes bring new context and background to subjects we’ve covered before.

Driving a Clarity PHEV in and around San Francisco for four days earlier this month brought this reviewer full circle to when I started writing about cars and began this journey of understanding how to make cars cleaner and less burdensome on our natural resources.

2018 Honda Clarity PHEV Plugged into L1 in Corte Madera, Calif.

2018 Honda Clarity PHEV Plugged into L1 in Corte Madera, Calif.

Enlarge Photo

It was 1997, and I was riding in the back of a then-current ovoid Ford Taurus, traipsing from Detroit to Washington, DC, with some students trying to make a point. The car was part of the FutureCar competition, a sister program to the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), a $2 billion program started by President Bill Clinton in 1993 to develop mid-size family sedans that could deliver 80 mpg. (In those days many mid-size sedans barely eked out 20 mpg.)

Each of the Detroit Three were tasked with producing a prototype sedan by 2000 before the program was scrapped under President George W. Bush. All three built prototype hybrids, two of which ran on diesel power.

The goals for the parallel, student-run FutureCar program were more modest—60 mpg—but the cars were much more ambitious. It was the first time I had heard of a hybrid, much less one that plugged in. Yet here I was, riding in a Taurus with tacked-on nose and tail cones, and powered by a 600 cc Yamaha motorcycle engine that mainly provided highway power. Around town it was propelled by a big nickel battery that sat in the trunk. (Nickel was all the rage in those days. Most teams, running lead-acid batteries, some of them spiral-wound, coveted the teams with enough sponsorship money to afford nickel.) If I recall correctly, the battery had a range of something like 10 miles.

The car could run on battery, gas, or both, much as we’ve become accustomed to in today’s hybrids, except that the driver controlled a switch to govern what ran when.