By on June 24, 2009

Hydrogen-fueled propulsion has been the Next Big Thing since the 1970s. Recently, it has also been assigned to the past, at least by US Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who said, “We’re going to be moving away from hydrogen-fuel cells for vehicles.” Thus, hydrogen propulsion seems to be one of those things that are everywhere in the time-space continuum except in the present. Some hydrofans are refusing to give up, though. VW’s evil genius boss of bosses, Ferdinand Piëch, has a nephew, Sebastian Piëch, who is a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche. Seb seems to be a smart, rich guy who speaks four languages, has an engineering and marketing background and lives in Shanghai and Tokyo. He’s a big name among big names at Riversimple, an alternative-car company which recently presented its first car in London. If Piëch had a monkey-man slogan, it’d be “ideas, ideas, ideas.”

In fact, Riversimple is so full of ideas you’d might as well say they’re not just selling a vehicle—they’re selling Ideaware. Here are some examples: Open-source development; a carbon fiber body which weighs only 350kg; a leasing-only sales model which includes all-you-can eat hydrogen fuel, at £200.00 per month; an inexpensive, off-the-shelf fuel cell that only supplies 6kW (for cruising speeds only) to power the miniscule electric motor; supercapacitors for acceleration which are charged by the fuel cell and by regenerated braking energy; and a cooperative agreement with a major liquid-hydrogen supplier to provide a network of filling stations in England.

Nobody dislikes armchair engineers who specialize in snark more than I do. But in this case, skepticism seems to be in order. Firstly, why hydrogen for a strictly urban vehicle? Urban areas are the domain, par excellence, of electrics, aren’t they? Next: According to Wired, Riversimple claims to use available technology and is not just another hydrogen pipe dream. Then why is the planned date of introduction in 2013? Have they solved the inherent vibration and cold-climate problems of the fuel cell? Why expect people to sign a 20-year lease (part of the concept which makes the rate affordable) if they haven’t?

And about the open-source concept. Are car engineers similar to software developers in that they accept pro bono work? And have copyright laws really hindered automotive progress? If not, then what’s the point of an open-source car? Riversimple or Reallynerdy?

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9 Comments on “Riversimple: Leave It To A Piëch . . ....”

  • avatar

    A 350kg carbon fiber body structure in a car like that? It’ll hold up the world!

  • avatar

    Firstly, why Hydrogen for a strictly urban vehicle? Urban areas are the domain, par excellence, of electrics, aren’t they?

    Do you know what a hydrogen fuel cell is? It’s a battery replacement to power an electric motor. You actually mention the electric motor in your article.

  • avatar

    Like flying cars, hydrogen cars are going to be the next big thing for the next 50 years.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    A complete hydrogen fuel cell system is just a complicated type of battery. Separating hydrogen from water by electrolysis is the charge cycle. Recombining hydrogen with oxygen while creating electricity is the discharge cycle. The weird thing about fuel cells is that the charge and discharge cycles are physically separated. You can’t run the fuel cell backwards to charge it back up.

    Probably never going to be a mainstream technology.

  • avatar

    what is GBP? PLease don’t assume we know every acronym.

  • avatar

    GBP is the British counterpart to the USD. Great Britain Pound.

  • avatar

    GBP? A currency used in some strange United Kingdom place. Not sure why he didn’t just type £.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    menjo, you’re right, I should have written battery-powered electric.

    David: sorry, I deal too much in forex. Oops yet another bit of jargon. I didn’t use the £ because there are lots of pound currencies out there. But I should have. At least written GB£. My apology. Why not blame the editor, doggone it!

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    6 KW. That is almost 9 hp. I say its a golf cart.

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