16 Jun 2009

riversimple - an open source car

A new two seater, hydrogen fuel cell powered city car was launched in central London today.

riversimple is the brain child -and love child too perhaps - of Hugo Spowers, whoriversimple_Hugo has spent 10 years pursuing his inspiringly holistic vision for the future of personal transport.  The riversimple team, whose first prototype we saw at the launch, has been supported for the past 3 years with funding and in other ways by the Piech family - the ‘other half’ of the Porche family dynasty.  Sebastian Piech spoke at the launch, as did Hugo Spowers. 

As Hugo says in the video I posted earlier today, “riversimple isn’t just about the technology”.  Another ‘pillar’ of the company (and there are several) is non-Ownership - the cars will only ever be leased, not sold; “this is a business model that rewards longevity and low running costs, rather than obsolescence and high running costs”.

The riversimple website tells us that their purpose is nothing less than to 'work systematically towards the elimination of the environmental impact of personal mobility’. 

Such a lofty aim might seem quixotic, and riversimple themselves ask the question ‘Are we doing too much?’ in their launch materials.  Indeed it could seem impractically radical to launch a car company that aspires to have others build its product using designs published online under open source licences.  On the other hand, who would try to launch a conventional car company now, or for that matter at any point in the last 10 or 20 years?

Surely now, as the motor industry crumbles under the combined pressure of oversupply and what seems like a systemic failure to provide any genuine innovation (I don’t count ‘dual engine’ hybrids!) is the right time for fresh thinking and new ways of doing things. riversimple can provide both of these in abundance.  What they are trying to do is profoundly disruptive: it is nothing less than a comprehensive reinvention of the existing structures of the motor industry - technical, financial and cultural.

What about the car itself?  Is it a hairy-shirt, brown bread eco-warrior’s public statement? 


Definitely not.  In fact, there are details everywhere you look that will appeal to enthusiasts as well as the current Prius demographic.  And not just the details; the stance is sporty - the wheels (each with its own motor) are placed right out in the corners of the car; the exposed carbon-fibre monocoque will draw in motor-racing fans (though it is there for reasons of lightness and strength, not aesthetics), and especially the doors, which open like a beetle’s wing cases.

riversimple doors

In the West such considerations will play a part in purchase decisions, but riversimple’s car is conceived as a true world car - a competitor to the Tata Nano that has sustainability built into its DNA…

From my point of view, the riversimple car, and everything that it manifests (the radical thinking, idealism, creativity, technology) is exciting and desirable in a way that the supposed ‘halo’ cars of the existing manufacturers completely fail to be.  The Aston Martin One-77 for example; £1m worth of old ideas, in a packaging concept that was relevant(ish) in 1960…

riversimple is looking for funding to take it to the next stage of its development.  Surely the UK government should be putting money towards this kind of venture (and retraining auto industry workers), rather than propping up existing manufacturers and dealers with £2,000 subsidies granted on the condition you scrap a perfectly usable 10 year-old car! 

 - Good article on Wired
 - ‘Talking ‘bout my hydrogeneration’ - AndyH of greenthing analyses why riversimple is a BHAG
 - My photos of the launch on flickr

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