Business

Tax credit's time has yet to come

The Internal Revenue Service said this week that Honda's FCX qualified for a $12,000 federal tax credit. That would be good news for the owners of the hydrogen-powered car — if there were any.

Only two of the futuristic fuel-cell vehicles are in private hands, and both of those are on $500-a-month leases. That means Honda technically owns the cars. Which also means that Honda gets the tax credit.

Fuel-cell electric vehicles use on-board electrochemical reactions to produce electricity from hydrogen fuel stored in pressurized tanks. They qualify for the tax credit under a 2005 federal law that provides breaks to taxpayers who do certain things to conserve energy, including driving fuel-cell vehicles.

Honda applied for the credit even though it will probably be next year before it has a next-generation fuel-cell vehicle ready for the public.

"We figured if you're going to do it, you might as well do it now," says Steve Ellis, manager of the alternative fuels department at American Honda Motor Co. in Torrance.

The cars, which are hand-built in Japan, are available only by lease because they would be prohibitively expensive to buy. "They call them million-dollar cars," Ellis says, "and that's not so far-fetched."

The FCX is certified in California as a zero-emission vehicle and gets the equivalent of 68 miles per gallon, although its fuel costs considerably more than gasoline. It also can be hard to find — there are only about half a dozen public hydrogen fueling stations in the Greater L.A. area.

Tax breaks aside, the car is a hit with Q'Orianka Kilcher, the 17-year-old actress who drives one of the two privately leased FCXes. (The other is leased by a South Bay man who owned one of Honda's natural-gas-powered Civics and seemed a likely candidate to road-test the FCX.)

"I'm very lucky," says Kilcher, who played Pocahontas in the 2005 film "The New World" and is an advocate of environmental causes.

"When I first heard about hydrogen cars, I promised myself I would never pump a gallon of gas. But I thought it would take at least another decade before I could get one."

Kilcher, who lives in Santa Monica, got her FCX in March after approaching Honda at a hydrogen industry event in Long Beach. She took her driver's test in the car and now tools around L.A. on a variety of missions that include driving her younger brothers to school — where her car is in demand for show-and-tell day.

"I love it," she says. "All my friends wish they could have one too."

As for the erstwhile tax credit, Kilcher says the prospect of catching a break from Uncle Sam had nothing to do with why she drives the car. "If I don't get it," she says, "I don't get it."

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Porsche hybrid built for speedCan the words "hot rod" and "hybrid" find happiness in the same sentence?

First it was Albert Gore III running his Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid at 100 mph along Interstate 5 in Orange County. Now, Porsche says it plans to sell a hybrid version of its Cayenne SUV that will top 70 mph in electric-only mode.

Porsche, under pressure from European regulators to cut tailpipe emissions, also said it would offer a hybrid version of its four-door Panamera coupe.

Alas, the German carmaker said it wasn't planning hybrid versions of its Boxster/Cayman model line or its 911 sports cars.

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'Lemon' law now covers militaryGov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed into law SB 234, the bill that extends protections of the state's automotive "lemon" law to armed forces personnel stationed in California.

Until now, the law applied only to cars purchased in California.

Military personnel who bought cars in other states and subsequently were transferred to California had no recourse under California law if they had a problem with their vehicles.

Under SB 234, active duty personnel transferred to California are protected by the state's lemon law even if they purchased their vehicle in another state.

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Wednesday in Highway 1Dan Neil reviews the much-anticipated Volvo C30, a small family hatchback. Susan Carpenter checks out the Ducati Hypermotard, in print and in a Web video.


martin.zimmerman@latimes.com

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