A new zero-emission, hydrogen fuel cell car rolled off a Honda production line in Japan on Monday and is headed to southern California, where Hollywood is already abuzz over the latest splash in green motoring.

The FCX Clarity, which runs on hydrogen to generate electricity, emits only water from its tailpipe and none of the gases believed to cause global warming. It is also two times more energy efficient than a gas-electric hybrid and three times that of a standard gasoline-powered car, the company says.

Honda expects to lease out a "few dozen" cars this year and about 200 more within a year. In California, a three-year lease will run $600 US a month, which includes maintenance and collision coverage.

Among the first customers are actress Jamie Lee Curtis and filmmaker husband Christopher Guest, actress Laura Harris, film producer Ron Yerxa, as well as businessmen Jon Spallino and Jim Salomon.

"It's so smooth," said Harris, who played villainess Marie Warner on the hit TV show 24. "It's like a future machine, but it's not."

Few hydrogen fuel stations

The biggest obstacles standing in the way of wider adoption of fuel cell vehicles are cost and the dearth of hydrogen fuel stations. For the Clarity's release in California, Honda said it received 50,000 applications through its website, but considered only buyers living near hydrogen fuel stations in Torrance, Santa Monica and Irvine.

"This is indeed a historic day for both Honda and American Honda — a new chapter in our nearly 50-year history in America," said John Mendel, a senior vice-president at America Honda Motor Co. at a morning ceremony here.

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"It's an especially significant day for American Honda as we plant firm footsteps toward the mainstreaming of fuel cell cars."

Initially, however, the Clarity will go only to a chosen few starting July and then launch in Japan this fall. Although Honda Motor Co. was the first Japanese automaker to launch a gas-electric hybrid vehicle in the U.S. in 1999, it has been outpaced by the dominance of Toyota's popular Prius.

Toyota announced in May that it has sold more than one million Prius hybrids, while both the Honda Insight and the hybrid Accord have been discontinued due to poor sales.

The FCX Clarity is part of Honda's plan to keep pace with rivals in green technology. It also plans to launch a gas-electric hybrid model, as well as new hybrid versions of the Civic, the sporty CR-Z concept and Fit subcompact.