How Investors Should View Honda’s Fuel Cell Car (HMC, F, TM, BLDP, ZAAP)

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The promise of fuel cell cars has been a long arduous prospect for investors and for green-tech consumers alike.  Last week marked the more official unveiling of Honda Motor’s FCX Clarity, the coming fuel cell car that will be released in the U.S. during the summer of 2008.  24/7 Wall St. wanted to review what this will mean for Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE:HMC) as far as its stock is concerned. 

Honda_fcx_picThe truth is that will be phenomenal, but it will not be an investable event until 2009 or later.  The reason is that this FCX Clarity is only going to be released on a limited basis in California in summer of 2008 (only to customers currently residing in the Torrance, Santa Monica and Irvine areas who meet additional qualification criteria will be eligible to take an FCX Clarity home) because refueling fuel cells can’t be done just anywhere.  Not yet, anyway.  The good news is that these will be leased for 3-years for $600/month.  The bad news is that it is going to be years and years before this is readily available countrywide and many metro areas do not even know when alternative energy fuel stations will be proposed.

This is exactly why any politician offering the American public a four year fix to our energy problem is selling rhetoric you shouldn’t listen to.  It is going to be 2012 to 2016 before the U.S. will see any noticeable difference, and anyone who believes that any full system-wide fix happening before 2020 is probably more optimistic than realistic.  You are hearing this from someone who believes that green investing and green businesses are already becoming big business.  But there are also financial and logistical realities.

Electric cars and electric scooters are already available from an OTC-Bulletin Board traded company called ZAP! (OTC-BB:ZAAP). Daimler’s (NYSE:DAI) "smart" vehicle is said to be available in 2008, although ZAP has a lawsuit against Daimler.

Toyota (NYSE:TM) has been a huge success with its hybrid offerings.  The Prius is for all practical purposes sold out at Toyota dealerships and used car dealers tell us that any Prius gets sold site-unseen and shipped out to California.  It was surprising that Toyota even bothered advertising it, as they don’t need to spend the cash.

Ford (NYSE:F) also has hybrids sell out basically as they come on the lot.  The hybrid tech is licensed from Toyota.  I have test driven a Ford Escape hybrid and was impressed, although the recycled interior is taking it a bit far (after all leather is recycled cow skin, and burping cows emit carbon.. look it up).  There are many other hybrid vehicles on the road, but the fuel cell is the ultimate goal with zero-emissions.

Ballard Power (NASDAQ:BLDP) was long thought of as the fuel cell stock play, and this has been a "watch stock" on our alternative energy sector tag on the 24/7 Wall St. site.  In fact, I have been covering that stock on and off since 1996 or 1997 when this was just a future technology.  But now Ballard has sold off its automotive fuel cell business to Ford and to Daimler AG (NYSE:DAI) in return for its stakes held by both companies.  Now Ballard will only focus on fuel cells for the industrial sector usage.  It will still develop the bus market, but the future of Ballard in the consumer auto markets will be that of a manufacturing one without the intellectual property.  The market gave this one a quick "thumbs up" vote, but shares have come right back down.

Honda’s market cap is currently around $123 Billion, and it is hardly followed by analysts in the U.S.   The ADR shares trade under $34.00 today and its 52-week trading range is $31.29 to $40.82.  24/7 Wall St. commends Honda for getting this commercially launched in the U.S., but we caution investors looking to play this for another year or two should be investing in "HMC" only the merits of what cars they offer today rather than their future fuel cell cars for the U.S. consumer. 

Jon C. Ogg
November 19, 2007

Jon Ogg produces the 24/7 Wall St. Special Situation Investing Newsletter and can be reached at jonogg@247wallst.com; he does not own securities in the companies he covers.  24/7 Wall St. also publishes "The Business Day in Global Warming" and you can subscribe directly to that on an RSS feed if you are only interested in green investing news by setting your RSS readers to the following link: http://www.247wallst.com/alternative_energy/index.html

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