Can Riversimple’s hydrogen car make a splash?

A new concept of driving was unveiled at the official opening of the London Motor Show, which is taking place at Battersea Evolution in London this weekend.

bodyshop Magazine attended the official opening yesterday, when Riversimple unveiled what it claims to be the most efficient car in the world. But Riversimple hopes to make waves with more than just its car.

Next year a car-sharing scheme will be trialled in the UK, with 20 hydrogen-powered vehicles centred around a single filling station. The long-term vision is for an infrastructure of filling stations to pop up around the country, surrounded by communities of hydrogen-powered cars.

The vision is the brainchild of Hugo Spowers, founder of Riversimple. He said, ‘For the first time a car is being designed for a business model, rather than the other way around. We want to encourage hassle-free usership of a car rather than ownership, and will build cars fitted with the technology that car-sharing schemes need for multiple access and multiple billing systems. So we’re probably the only car company in the world that hopes never to sell a car.

‘However, we won’t run a car club ourselves. Instead, car-sharing schemes of all shapes and sizes will be our customers. We’ll take the risk at the level of a year as to who has the car; the car-sharing company takes the risk at the level of an hour or a day.’

Riversimple has a €2m grant from the European Union to support next year’s trial, which will involve real people parting with real money, and hopes to match that sum via crowdfunding.

Hugo continued, ‘The first point of the trial is to refine the customer proposition, the second aim is to prove the economics of the filling station. If you put 50 cars around a single filling station it will quickly break even. We want to demonstrate that.’

The idea then is for utility companies to identify the earning potential and install further filling stations.

But what of the car itself? Rasa is Riversimple’s first model, weighing in at just 580kg, with a 300-mile range and three-minute refuelling time. Powered by an 8.5kW hydrogen fuel cell, the four-wheel drive Rasa provides 300 litres of boot space and offers 0-60mph in 10 seconds

Hugo adds that its platform is perfectly suited to add driver assistance systems, up to and including autonomous software, but insists simplicity is the key.

He said, ‘We believe in simplicity over complexity; not crude and basic simplicity, but sophisticated simplicity. People find it frustrating to have a manual an inch thick on how to drive their car. We want a car that focuses on what a car should do, and does it really, really well.

‘I believe a large part of the bells and whistles available now is driven not by market demand but by the need for manufacturers to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. We don’t think people want as much functionality as they’ve got in cars now, and very few people ever use the bulk of that functionality.’

But does Hugo see this as a replacement for electric cars? The UK government predicts there will be 1.3 million hydrogen cars on the roads by 2030, with the clean tech product market expected to boom to £1 trillion by 2020.

Hugo said, ‘We are a for-profit company, but we have a broader set of responsibilities to deliver. The legal duty of the company is to systematically pursue the elimination of environmental impact for personal transport.

‘In the future the primary criterion is energy consumption. Less sustainable is still unsustainable so we need both. We need batteries and we need fuel cells. We think the forecourt of the future should sell hydrogen and electricity side by side.’