Update: one wedding and an urban hydrogen car
I am now back in Mexico. This is my first post since May 23rd. Since then, I have been in England for five weeks, principally to attend my older son’s wedding in Devon, just east of Kingsbridge, which was a truly marvellous event, and was blessed by bright sunshine, fresh light sea breezes and the wonderful South Devon countryside. I cannot resist including the photo above from the wedding.
Whilst I was in England, on June 16th, I also attended the launch of Riversimple’s urban hydrogen car on the Terrace of Somerset House.
Riversimple is the brainchild of Hugo Spowers. I first met Hugo about ten years ago when I was working as a facilitator of courses at Schumacher College. Hugo attended a number of courses at Schumacher including ‘The Web of Life’ with Fritjof Capra, ‘The Ecology of Commerce’ with Paul Hawken, Karl-Henrik Robert and Jonathon Porritt, and a ‘Business and Sustainability’ Programme with Amory Lovins. This is the kind of inspired, relevant education many people should receive, and it had quite an impact on Hugo.
For 15 years previously, Hugo had been an engineer working in motorsport where he set up his own company ‘Prowess,’ designing, building, driving and restoring racing cars. When he came to the course at Schumacher College he was at somewhat of a crossroads, as he had become increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of motor-racing.
However, the different courses at Schumacher, together with an MBA he did at Cranfield University, opened up the possibility of continuing to be involved in the car industry, but from a very different perspective – that of sustainability. So Hugo founded the company Riversimple. Their website says:
“Our purpose is to move people sustainably. We will pursue our purpose by working systematically towards the elimination of the environmental impact of personal transport.”
On meeting Hugo, it is difficult not to be effected by his charm, good humour, endless store of stories, knowledge, intelligence and convictions. These abilities have enabled him to work with a great variety of people and organizations to follow his dream of a vastly more sustainable personal transport system. Key partners have included Morgan cars, Oxford University, Cranfield University, British Oxygen Company, Qinitic, and members of the Porsche family.
In fact, the whole project is a testament to the power of collaboration between different organizations, and the need for inter-disciplinary work to create the kind of radical thinking and innovative practices that are necessary to challenge the dominant paradigm of doing business, which is based on continuous growth in the use of the earth’s natural resources, and which has led to the ecological crisis we now find ourselves facing. This project, by contrast, is a rigorous attempt, within the car industry – not, at first sight, the most promising or easy setting – to create a more sustainable world.
It has taken nine years to develop the technology and business concepts behind Riversimple to the point where the Riversimple urban car could be unveiled on the Terrace at Somerset House.
On the day, after brief speeches by some of the key people involved, Hugo drove the car onto the Terrace. Like many people present, I was impressed by the elegance and beauty of the design. Rather then attempting to describe it in words, it is best illustrated by the following photos.
Apart from the innovative aspects of the car design – with its five novel features of composite body, four electric motors, no gearbox or transmission, regenerative braking and hydrogen power), Riversimple has four other different revolutionary features which set it apart as an organization.
1. Its income is different from other car companies. It is based on leasing rather than selling.
2. The structure of the company is different from most other commercial organizations: all stakeholders are equal partners, rather than just the founder and investors.
3. The design process is different: it is published on the web for anyone to collaborate in the design and build under an open source license.
4. The manufacturing will be different: Riversimple will be one producer among many.
Each one of these five differences from the normal models of car design, income, organizational structure, design process and manufacturing is significant. All are mutually reinforcing, and key aspects of the overall strategy to create a more sustainable form of personal transport. For more information on any of them, visit Riversimple’s website.
The net result is a car with 4 times lower carbon dioxide emissions than any car available on the market today, and, if hydrogen is used from renewable sources, that figure becomes 40 times less. The car has a range of 240 miles, a top speed of 50 mph, and accelerates faster than a Smart Car. It is estimated it will cost about £200 per month to lease the car with an additional fee of 15 pence per mile.
The next phase is to build ten cars and rigorously test them over a year. From this, 50 further prototypes will be built and field tested in a small city. The strategy is to develop the use of the car city by city, thus avoiding the problems of having to create a very costly national infrastructure of refuelling stations to support the hydrogen powered car. Instead, the infrastructure can be created and built up at a local level city by city.
£20 million are now needed for this next phase. Some of this money has been pledged by the family of Ernst Piëch. Riversimple is seeking further investors. Hopefully, the money can be found to take this project to its next stage and be an important part of creating a more sustainable personal transport system.
Finally, as always at these events, it was good meet new people and connect again with friends working on the increasingly urgent task of developing a more sustainable world. In particular, I would like to mention Dave Hampton, the Carbon Coach, who helps people reduce their carbon emissions, and Antony Turner, founder of Carbonsense, an organization helping companies develop leading edge climate change strategies.