Reflections over coffee with Hugo Spowers, founder and chief engineer at Riversimple
Sometimes, small changes are not enough and you need change that is transformational ~ something that makes it possible for everything around to shift with it.
Riversimple is a business that designs cars. Despite having a designer working out of Barcelona, the heart of the business is actually in Llandrindod Wells. I met Hugo Spowers, founder and chief engineer for Riversimple, over coffee at The Workhouse Presteigne and we talked about the company’s new local network car.
This new car, not yet released, is designed around hydrogen fuel cell technology. A hydrogen fuel cell converts hydrogen into electricity – the only by-products are pure water and heat – so it has the possibility to be very efficient and clean, with minimal environmental impact. Fuel cells have been used in NASA space-craft since the Gemini program in the 1960’s and even today they provide electricity and drinking water for astronauts on Space Shuttle flights.
Hugo and the team at Riversimple have put sustainability at the heart of their business. The first fuel cell car they created was the LIFE Car, developed by a consortium that Hugo brought together with Morgan and presented at the Geneva Motor show in 2008. This same car later made a local appearance at the Tour de Presteigne 2009 (see pic).
Beyond Business as Usual
“Take the anchor. The first meaning of that is hope, because hope holds you fast like an anchor, so you don’t give way” Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
A business whose purpose is to create-profit-for-shareholders is standard stuff and has proved very successful as a model. But without any anchor to people and place or to taking responsibility for the future, businesses can justify activity in financial terms alone, and so you get a situation in which meeting social and environmental needs is compromised on the grounds that it’s “ too risky” for the financiers.
But as soon as businesses place a meaningful value on social and environmental objectives as well as financial ones, you start to see how it’s possible to make society more sustainable and stop climate change.
Since it began 7 years ago, Riversimple has been committed to taking the longer view. The company has created a new business model to support their work and this is a big part of their achievement, resulting in a business that is owned by and operated on behalf of staff, customers, suppliers, investors, and anchored into community and the environment.
Making transport zero carbon is a challenge, although there are some green shoots ~ the average distance travelled by a person in the UK by car or van has started to level out after years of average increases. And car manufacturers have worked hard to make cars more energy efficient to save fuel and cut carbon emissions. But one day soon we will need an alternative to the combustion engine.
Which is why it is great news that Riversimple are preparing to unveil their new local network electric car, designed by Chris Reitz, former design chief for the Fiat 500.
It’s really about how you put the whole thing together
For more than 80 years, cars have been designed around the internal combustion engine. And to an extent society has designed itself around the car. The hydrogen fuel cell car offers the same freedom as any other car. Its quick to fuel, easy to drive, it can go fast. But as Hugo explained, once you take the heavy petrol engine away, all sorts of new stuff is possible:
- The bodywork can be lighter because it doesn’t have a big old engine to house
- The space inside the car can be freed up so that a small car can still be nice and roomy
- By using modern composite materials you can build streamlined cars, without sacrificing strength or durability
- The last Riversimple model placed four light electric motors, one in each wheel, and these motors can even regenerate electricity when the car is braking
- If all this is sounding a bit expensive then you can look at changing the approach to ownership
And the main point of all this is you can create a really modern car that does what we need it to do, but move away from the heavy toll on the environment caused by petrol and diesel cars.
How to find out more
Visit the website at www.riversimple.com to find out about Riversimple or to watch for the release of the new car. There is currently an opportunity to put names forward as pioneer drivers of the new model.
First published in Broad Sheep magazine