River Simple

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= RiverSimple, a platform for fuel efficient cars, a Open Source Hydrogen Car project

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


Description

"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/)


Discussion

Mission

"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#


Status

"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