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Hugo Spowers: Steal These Secrets! Build this Car!

Posted on Apr 27, 2013

Steal this technology! Build this hydrogen car! says Hugo Spowers. I'm fascinated.

Race-car driver turned green automotive visionary, Hugo has re-imagined not just the automobile, but the entire auto industry. The result? A car that looks and runs like no other vehicle on the road, made by a company that runs like no other in the business world. In a new Green Interview recorded at Riversimple’s headquarters in Ludlow, England, I get Hugo to  explain his remarkable car and his company’s inside-out business plan—which is backed by an heir to the Porsche dynasty.

His pioneering company, Riversimple, is tackling one of our  most intractable environmental problems:  our passionate addiction to the automobile. Ultimately, Hugo wants to eliminate the environmental damage caused by personal transport.

“We know it's bold, but to just reduce the environmental impact of personal transport is an insufficient goal if you want to build a sustainable future, because being less unsustainable is still not sustainable,” he says.

Riversimple's prototype vehicles weigh just 350 kg and get the equivalent of 300 miles per gallon. The cars have composite bodies built of extremely lightweight but crash-resistant materials. They have four electric motors, no gearbox or transmission, regenerative braking, and power provided by a 6 kW hydrogen fuel cell. Even using hydrogen produced from natural gas, the car produces less than one-third of the C02 emissions of any other car on the market. Ultimately, Spowers aims to generate zero emissions by using hydrogen produced from renewable sources.

And Riversimple doesn't intend to sell the cars  —it will lease them, and recycle them when they're worn out. Its inside-out business strategy leads it to give away all its technology freely over the Internet. It will also help people who want to use it to build their own green cars. The goal is to create a global network of technology and parts, bringing down unit costs and helping Riversimple-style cars to grow and spread.

“You can't expect the business model of the twentieth century to be very well suited to dealing with the twenty-first century,” says Spowers. “Far better to have a business model that rewards resource efficiency rather than resource consumption.”

Is this the future of the automobile? It's certainly a new way of thinking about cars, and a new way of thinking about business. Hugo Spowers is an inspiration, a blend of sweeping vision with hard-headed business and engineering. It was a huge pleasure to meet him. And I'd love to have one of his cars.

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