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= RiverSimple is a company based in Britain developing an efficient Open Source Hydrogen Car

URL = http://www.riversimple.com/


Riversimple's Hyrban car.

"A new hydrogen-powered car, whose designs will be “open source” and posted for free use on the web, was unveiled today in London. The company behind the Riversimple urban car claim the new model proves hydrogen automotive technology is ready for roll-out now rather than in 10 years’ time.

The open-source approach means entrepreneurs around the world could download the designs and manufacture the two-seater prototype locally for free.

The car, which drove in to the launch event, is capable of a 50mph top speed, 0-30mph acceleration in 5.5 seconds, and has a 240 mile range. The car’s backers say it has greenhouse gas emissions of 30g/km CO2, less than a third of the latest hybrid petrol cars such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight.

The lightweight Smart car-size vehicle uses hydrogen in a modest 6kW fuel cell, and – in the case of this prototype – uses hydrogen converted from natural gas. Hydrogen can also be created from water using electrolysis and potentially even from bio-fuels.

The car, which cost nearly £500,000 to develop in partnership with Oxford University and Cranfield University, is expected to cost £200 a month to lease when it is launched as a production vehicle. The date for UK availability is yet to be announced, but Riversimple is in talks with UK cities including Oxford and Worcester for pilots." (http://gas2.org/2009/06/16/open-source-hydrogen-car-takes-to-the-road/)



"The purpose of RiverSimple is to move people sustainably.

We will pursue our purpose by working systematically towards the elimination of the environmental impact of personal mobility.

Our vision is of future where our relationship with the car and with fossil fuels has changed dramatically, with new solutions in place for sustainable and responsible mobility." (http://www.riversimple.com/)

Business Model

Scaled down production:

"Complementing the open source philosophy, the manufacturing requirements of the car mean that the size of production plant will be greatly scaled down.

The low component count of the cars and their carbon composite bodies, means that smaller plants will be needed. Riversimple expect one plant to manufacture around 5,000 cars a year, unlike the production of the conventional pressed steel bodies, where a factory will spit out about 300,000 a year of the same model - necessary for the economies of scale.

'When you are doing it at that scale,' says Spowers, 'the breakeven volume at which a model becomes commercially viable is 100 times lower. So you can genuinely build cars that suit people's needs, rather than the opposite extreme which is the lunacy of the "world car".'

As a result, the industry can become more distributed: it will be possible to have smaller plants in different places, making different models that are more suitable for different geographies or cultural needs.

Cars will not be sold

Another significant departure from the conventional business model is that the cars will be leased, not sold. The leasing will include the maintenance of the car, the fuel and the recycling of the car at the end of its life.

The idea behind leasing the cars is primarily to bring the incentive of making the cars more sustainable in their production, maintenance and use, back to the manufacturer.

'There’s no driver for resource efficiency if we sell the car,' says Spowers. 'If we sell the cars… we have a direct incentive to sell as many cars as possible, so there’s absolutely no commercial sense to build in longevity, low running cost or fuel efficiency – the opposite in fact.'

In providing the opportunity to produce niche specific cars, Riversimple will also be paving the way for a wider cultural shift in car use. The leasing of the cars will undermine the 'commodity value' of the car, leaving drivers only with the use value of the car and, as designs develop and specialised cars are produced, people will - in theory - lease the right car for the right job, rather than the right car for their image.

Car clubs

With this in mind, Riversimple expects car clubs to be major customers. 'Car clubs tease apart the functionality of cars,' says Spowers.

For most people, he says, '95 per cent of their [car] requirements will be covered by a certain set of needs, but they buy a car to meet 100 per cent of their needs, and that’s dictated by the last 5 per cent. If 95 per cent of their requirements is on their own, commuting a 20 mile distance and then every couple of weeks they’ll go away with the family, they’ll buy an estate car for that one journey every couple of weeks." (http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/401026/the_opensource_hydrogen_car_set_to_change_the_industry.html#


Patrick Andrews of the open source car project Riversimple explains the innovative ownership and governance structures of the project:

“It is time, I believe, to start experimenting with the corporate structure. The joint stock company in its current form dates back to 1856, an era when slavery was still fresh in the memory. We need, I suggest, a more enlightened model for a more enlightened age. At Riversimple, an innovative car business I am involved with, we have adopted such a structure.

Our starting point was to change the ownership structure, a sacred cow of Western business. We questioned the traditional ownership model not because we wanted to start a revolution, but because we felt there are better ways of inspiring people than to ask them to serve shareholders and shareholder value.

There are plenty of positive behaviour habits associated with ownership – responsibility, caring, taking a long-term approach. But they’re not generally associated with shareholder ownership, and certainly not on a large-scale, where remote speculators exchange shares like playthings.

We prefer to ask staff to serve their neighbours, meaning in our context other staff, customers, suppliers, the local community, investors and the environment. To speak on behalf of these stakeholders, we have created six custodian bodies, separate legal entities who are the sole members of Riversimple LLP. They jointly appoint the board. The board is directed to serve them all and balance their interests.

Another significant innovation is the introduction of a “compound board”. We felt that having diluted the power of shareholders, we also needed to dilute the absolute power of the board. Thus our board is split into two – an “operating board”, in function very like a conventional board, appointing and monitoring the CEO, and a “stewards board”, acting as a critical friend of the operating board and responsible for auditing and dispute resolution. The latter is not, I emphasise, a supervisory board – the two parts of the board sit next to each other in the structure, both being appointed directly by the custodians. They are mutually accountable.

Below the board, we aim to develop a self-organising and fluid system designed to foster personal initiative, a network rather than a hierarchy. Inspired by W. Gore, Ricardo Semler and others, we will do without chains of command or predetermined channels of communication.

Accountability is something we have thought hard about in devising our structure, aiming to balance it with power. In most businesses, we believe, shareholders have too much power and too little accountability, whilst managers and staff have too little power and too much accountability.

It is still early days and there will no doubt be plenty of trial and error as we work with this novel structure. A particular challenge is to persuade potential investors to accept this approach. We are fortunate in our current investors, a family with a successful habit of taking a long-term perspective. They share our view that by ceding control, they set free the potential of the people within the business and thus have a greater chance of creating long-term value than in a conventional structure. Time will tell.

In the end, I believe, what matters is to try. Try and then let go.” (http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/business/featured-articles/point-of-view-re-thinking-business-structures)


Sustainability Aspects

John Thackara:

"This writer has long been sceptical that small private vehicles would have an important role to pay in a sustainable mobility mix. But Riversimple has made me pause for thought.

At a presentation in Leicester, UK, last month, where a deal has been struck with the City Council for 30 vehicles to be piloted there in 2012, we were told that the formal purpose of this new start-up is “to build and operate cars for independent use whilst systematically pursuing elimination of the environmental damage caused by personal transport.”

Not reduce but *eliminate* environmental damage? How could that be possible?

The company's founder, Hugo Spowers, explained that every aspect of the company's operation — not just its vehicle technology — is based on whole system design. It has evolved from a linear resource-consuming model, in which natural capital resources are not replenished, to a cyclical system in which waste streams provide all material inputs, and all loops are closed.

The car itself has five novel features: a composite body, four electric motors, no gearbox or transmission, regenerative braking, and power provided by hydrogen fuel cells. Its Network Electric Platform has been so designed that if there are breakthroughs in other power sources, these can easily be incorporated later on. The vehicle is decoupled from a single power platform or refuelling infrastructure.

But Riversimple's technology is just the start. It's cars will not be sold outright. Customers will buy mobility as a service rather than a car as a product. There will be no maximum or minimum mileage allowance and critically, it is a fully bundled service covering all costs such as road tax, vehicle maintenance, insurance and fuel, with no surprises to the customer.

The way the system has been designed, it is in everyone's interest to keep cars on the road as long as possible. Riversimple will be the first car manufacturer for whom success will not mean persuading you to buy a new one every three years.

Customers will interact with Riversimple and its user community through a personalized digital interface accessed from the car, on their computer or via their mobile phone. They will be able to manage their account, request maintenance, ask questions, locate the nearest refuelling station and so on.

To ensure that energy and resource efficiency remain at the heart of everything the company does, lower environmental impact is financially rewarded.

A sale of a service model is therefore pushed upstream into the supply chain. The supplier of the hydrogen fuel cell, for example, is likely to remain its owner. Manufacturer and supplier thereby have a shared interest in the longevity and reliability of the vehicle, and of the system as a whole.

Riversimple's production model, too, is distributed. Its carbon composite bodies allow profitable manufacturing with plants producing 3-5,000 units each year. This regional distribution of production will enable the delivery of improved service for regional markets at reduced cost. (The company is in early stage discussions with other regions across the world to roll out this strategy through joint venture partnerships for local manufacturing facilities.)

The next consideration is service. An urban car is effectively tethered to its home city, so the critical scale for establishing a commercial market is that of a city, rather than a nation. Riversimple's service infrastructure, too, is cellular — city by city.

The surprises continue. Everything in RiverSimple is open source. The company is adopting an open intellectual property model, based on that used in open source software. The design of this and future vehicles will be shared, thereby allowing anyone to collaborate in the design and build of our cars under an open source licence.

Riversimple, as one producer among many, believes this will be a fast route to replacing the internal combustion engine.

The aim is to maximise design input from passionate experts at low cost. It is therefore also licensing its technology to the open-source foundation 40 Fires. Riversimple wants people to contribute to the design in the same way computer programmers help build Unix.

The company is owned by six "custodial bodies." Among these is Environment — on an equal footing with investors and commercial partners. Checks and balances are built into the system through the appointment of a Stewards body, who are responsible for auditing and monitoring the governance.

The structure and responsibilities of conventional corporations create a confrontational dynamic with most stakeholders. Therefore shared ownership is another key feature of the Riversimple system. Its ownership model is inspired by long-standing and successful businesses such as VISA International, John Lewis Partnership and Mondragon. All stakeholders have a formal role in the organisation, to all parties’ benefit." (http://observersroom.designobserver.com/johnthackara/entry.html?entry=22708)


"Riversimple cars are expected to be on trial in the UK from 2012. Around 50 cars will be leased in one or two cities, supported by the local authority." (http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/401026/the_opensource_hydrogen_car_set_to_change_the_industry.html#

More Information

  • 40 Fires Foundation: "To aid the development of the open source hardware community, Riversimple has set up the 40 Fires Foundation, an open-source hardware group that anyone can join to share expertise and develop technologies." [1]

For background:

  1. Product Hacking