ART IN MOTION: Voices of the Future 2 – Talk with Hugo Spowers, Inventor of Zero Emissions car Riversimple Rasa


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It was a great honour for us to welcome Hugo Spowers to Messums Wiltshire on Friday 12 to hear him introduce and talk about his astonishing revolutionary car, the Riversimple Rasa. The Rasa is the world’s first independently-produced hydrogen fuel cell vehicle and, incredibly, has been designed and manufactured to successful prototype stage by Hugo and his tiny team in Wales. In doing so, he has completely out-witted the big international car makers in this technology. His talk was an extraordinary insight into how he has achieved his seemingly impossible dream, despite a very different background in motor racing and old car restoration. Hugo’s is a story of extraordinary commitment, determination, left-field creativity and derring-do, and his talk was an intensely interesting crash-course in how motoring can – and will – be so different in the hydrogen age.

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The Rasa on the drawing board

During his talk and during a long enthusiastic question time afterwards, Hugo explained how for over 15 years Hugo has fought for his very particular goal, “to pursue, systematically, the elimination of environmental impact of personal transport”. Right from the start of that dream he has known that hydrogen-powered ultra-lightweight automobiles that are built to last are the inevitable cars of the future. Throughout his talk, Hugo explained how this philosophy remains, at least evidentially, in marked contrast to the views of the major manufacturers and international governments. He explained how the big manufacturers are geared around manufacturing cars from steel and using predominantly fossil-fuel power – in other words, cars with ‘built in obsolescence’ created on acutely unsustainable commercial models. He also explained how the current electric car revolution, while significant and important, is not the answer.

Hugo went on to describe in some detail the advantages of using hydrogen over conventional electric and hybrid platforms, and explained how fuel distribution and safety works. He compared his car to the Toyota Mirai – the most significant hydrogen fuel-cell car in current production – and explained how very much more efficient the Rasa was, despite being designed and built at a tiny fraction of the cost. He also explained how the power requirement for electric cars for the masses was so enormous that the model could never be realistically serviced, at least using current technologies.

But it is Hugo’s leasing model which is a crucial part of the plan, and he described the many benefits of offering a new way of owning and using cars – of how Rasas would never be sold but instead leased to customers, who would by a ‘service package’ to use it, a bit like is currently achieved with the mobile phone industry. He explained how he has a new style of service-provision model that will enable customers to travel for a fixed price per month, with minimal harm to the environment. His leasing model and revolutionary car also require a company with a new form of governance.

“By owning the vehicle ourselves and not selling it, it is in our interests to make a car that will last as long as possible and be as cheap to run as possible,” Hugo explained. He also pointed out how parts need to have value at their end-of-life so that their costs were recoverable. All these are cornerstones to his philosophies, which make The Riversimple Movement – his company and business model – and its zero-emissions car, so fascinating. It also makes all the world’s established car mass-producers look decidedly behind the times.

Hugo Spowers in Rasa credit Oxford University (1280x852)

Hugo Spowers

Although it is mind-boggling to imagine a world of tiny lightweight, largely-recyclable cars, powered by hydrogen and leased in entirely new ways, Hugo’s pretty and extraordinary car works beautifully and achieves all his Company’s goals. Just to prove the point his car was demonstrated on Saturday to an astonished audience. Seeing it nipping silently about the lanes of Tisbury, producing no emissions at the tail pipe, was a brilliant moment. And now the Chinese are going to make it.

Hugo is financed by the Welsh Government and a series of independent supporters, and he has just raised well over £1m through crowd funding. You can join The Riversimple Movement here and be part of this marvellous initiative. http://www.riversimple.com

As a man who dreamt, invented and made, Hugo is a hero of our times. It was wonderful to have him and his wife Fiona with us at Messums Wiltshire. His car remains on display as part of the Art In Motion: Knowledge and Design exhibition until May 19th.

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