A group of investors and engineers based in Britain has unveiled a hydrogen city car they hope will revolutionize the auto industry with its innovative leasing structure and open source development — even though it looks like a Converse Chuck Taylor.
Riversimple pulled the sheet off its ultra-lightweight fuel cell Urban Car today in London and said it delivers a 50-mph top speed, a 200-mile range and fuel economy equivalent to 300 mpg. The company claims it also emits a paltry 30 grams per kilometer of CO2. The car features a 6-kilowatt fuel cell, which is miniscule compared to the 100-kW unit in the Honda FCX Clarity, but the developers say that’s plenty for a vehicle that weighs just 770 pounds.
“This next generation hydrogen-electric car brings electric vehicles into a new stage where range, charge-time and cost are no longer commercial barriers,” said Taras Wankewycz of Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies. The company provided the fuel cell that powers the car.
Porsche scion Sebastian Piëch is a partner in the firm. His family helped finance the project, which was been in the works for nine years and was developed with help from Oxford and Cranfield universities.
Many major automakers have relegated hydrogen cars to the back burner — Honda, BMW and Mazda are notable exceptions — and the Obama Administration wants to cut hydrogen vehicle R&D funding. But Spowers believes hydrogen is the fuel of the future.
He says the problem is automakers are focusing too much on science in a search for big breakthroughs when the basic technology already exists.
The Riversimple uses four in-wheel motors with regenerative braking and ultracapacitors to store the energy. Small components and a composite body minimize weight down to maximize efficiency. The composite body also gives the car its, ahem, unusual matte finish.
“I think that the auto industry is focusing a lot of money on research and development at a basic science level on hydrogen storage and fuel cell technology. We don’t think it’s necessary to do that,” Spowers told CNN. “We can use existing technology and integrate it into a whole system design approach — that is where the breakthrough has come.”
Piëch is equally bullish on the technology and says the Urban Car “represents a major step toward practical twenty-first century personal transport and toward the fulfillment of my great-grandfather’s ambitions for accessible personal transport.” His great-grandfather is Ferdinand Porsche. Yes, that Porsche. Piëch says the Riversimple embodies Ferdinand Porsche’s “other passions: light weight and high efficiency.”
While the engineering is interesting enough, consider the sales pitch: The car is available only for lease and only in Britain, but the 200-pound monthly payment (about $330) includes the hydrogen. That’s about half what you’d spend leasing the FXC Clarity.
Riversimple says the leasing revenue will help finance the creation of a local hydrogen infrastructure, which is, of course, one of the great stumbling blocks to the adoption of hydrogen. The company says it has brokered a deal with the British gas company BOC Gases to develop a pilot fueling program “in a small UK city.”
The company plans to post the Urban Car’s design specs online in an open source environment that Piech says will hasten the car’s development and allow people to tailor the vehicle to local needs and desires. We’d like ours to look a little less like a dragonfly and a little more like a Porsche Cayman, thank you.
Spowers still needs to line up more funding to continue testing the car but he believes it could be available as early as 2013.
“I’m absolutely convinced that we’re offering a better solution for a segment of the transport problem and we’d be crazy not to pursue it,” he told CNN. Wired