‘Hydrogen’, with its propensity to produce low-carbon energy capable of powering industry, homes and transport, has been a consistent theme during our series of features on decarbonisation and sustainability.
And the wonderfully-evocative name ‘Riversimple’ has also been mentioned on a number of occasions – from the Milford Haven Energy Kingdom project to groundbreaking hydrogen and biomethane energy collaborations with Wales & West Utilities and Welsh Water – when showcasing how our region is pioneering the use of this clean, green gas.
So what is driving this extraordinary enterprise that has already become an inspirational movement – Riversimple Movement Ltd – and how will this company’s mission help transform Wales and the world?
To pursue, systematically, the elimination of the environmental impact of personal transport
When we spoke with the company’s founders, husband-and-wife team Hugo and Fiona Spowers, we soon came to realise that ‘Riversimple’ is more than just a beautiful and intriguing brand. It represents a revolution in net zero personal transport – a world-leading Welsh-based car manufacturer of hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs), headquartered in Llandrindod Wells, with a unique ‘social’ business model and a declared purpose “To pursue, systematically, the elimination of the environmental impact of personal transport.”
That purpose is hard-wired into the business – and is put into practice every day in the most advantageous way for customers, shareholders and society as a whole, because Riversimple doesn’t believe there needs to be any trade-off between a successful, profitable, resilient business and delivering on its environmental aim. Everything that Riversimple does – from the design of the cars and the structure of the business to the shareholders who invest and the people they employ – is focused on this central aim and pursued through a “Whole System Design” approach which ensures that every step they take, every investment they make, gets them closer to their end goal.
Zero emission cars that will play a vital role in decarbonising transport as quickly as possible
Founded by former motorsport engineer Hugo Spowers in 2001, Riversimple aims to offer customers affordable, hassle-free, fun-to-drive hydrogen powered eco-cars.
“We’re making zero emission cars powered by hydrogen rather than batteries because we believe they have a vital role to play in decarbonising transport as quickly and effectively as possible. The only emission from our cars is water.” says Hugo.
Our purpose is hard-wired into the business model
The revolution doesn’t stop there.
“We will not be selling cars” explains Communications Director, Fiona Spowers: “Our vehicles will be offered to customers on a subscription-only basis, with one all-inclusive, cost-transparent monthly payment (including a mileage charge) that covers all costs, including insurance and fuel. As a business we want to make sustainability profitable – the longer the cars last, the more efficient they are, the more profitable we will be. The more environmental damage we eliminate, the more successful we will be as a business.” The secret? “Aligning the interests of all key stakeholders and focusing on delivering outcomes that benefit all.”
The less impact on the environment, the more profitable we will be
Because Riversimple follows a Circular Economy model where vehicles are provided as a service rather than being ‘sold’, the company takes responsibility for their whole life-cycle. This means the vehicles are designed to last as long as possible, incentivising Riversimple to invest in higher quality components that will save operating costs over the lifetime of the vehicle, while making them affordable from the very beginning. And because that design enables many components and materials to be recycled for use at the end of the vehicle’s time on the road, the whole circular process is good for the planet as well as profitability.
“We’re showing that profit and environmental responsibility aren’t mutually exclusive” explains Hugo “and when we’ve demonstrated that, we hope that many other companies will follow suit. That’s how we’ll get to carbon zero as quickly as possible.”
The company is even working with the supply chain to see how their suppliers’ interests can align with the Riversimple ambition to create long-lasting, high-quality vehicles with minimal waste – and this philosophy extends to their Distributed Manufacturing approach, where the cars will be built from multiple small plants located near the markets they serve, bringing quality jobs to those communities.
Success built on the Circular Economy and Distributed Manufacturing models
In terms of the car itself, Riversimple began with a hydrogen fuel cell, a manifesto for sustainable design and a blank sheet of paper – with every aspect of their technology continuously interrogated for simplicity, efficiency, lightness, affordability, safety and sustainability.
The name of their first model – “Rasa” – is a nod to that blank sheet of paper, taken from Tabula Rasa which means ‘Clean Slate’ in Latin. The Rasa is a zero emission car powered by hydrogen, with the hydrogen passing through a fuel cell where it combines with oxygen from the air to produce electricity that flows to small, lightweight electric motors – one in each wheel – to give the car an impressive four-wheel drive. Rasa uses a small fuel cell to provide cruising speed power and supercapacitors for fast acceleration. When the car brakes, the kinetic energy (which is normally lost in the form of heat) is captured as electricity – and as the car slows, this electricity floods into the supercapacitors and is sent back to the motors, enabling acceleration from 0 to 60 in just 9.5 seconds (with Riversimple’s unique Axle Guardian software monitoring safety-critical powertrain features at all times).
The only battery onboard the Rasa is there to power the control units to start the car and activate the lights before the fuel cell is switched on – and this pioneering approach has also been extended to the two other vehicles in Riversimple’s pipeline: a two-seater van and five-seater family vehicle, with all three vehicles having a growing waiting list of eager customers already in place.
A blank sheet of paper has created a revolutionary car – and radically different company governance
The revolutionary nature of the Riversimple car is mirrored in the Future Guardian corporate governance structure of the company, which has been designed to give all stakeholders (customers, investors, the community, employees, commercial partners and the environment) a stake in the Riversimple business; with the company answerable to the six Custodians who represent the stakeholder groups (and hold the voting shares). The spirit of that radical governance can also be seen in the way Riversimple is being as transparent as possible with their technology and technical standards; with plans to implement an open-source framework that encourages a faster and more collaborative elimination of environmental harm while also reducing the overall costs for those who implement the technology.
Hard won plaudits, a partnership with Siemens and a £180M fund raise
Given the extraordinary ingenuity and perseverance shown by Hugo, Fiona and the rest of the Riversimple team, it’s perhaps no surprise that the company was awarded the Simms Medal by the RAC Club in 2016 for “outstanding contribution to motoring innovation” and elected as an Emerging Innovator member of the Circular Economy network CE100 by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2017. The plaudits have continued, with the company named at no.69 in the Disrupt100 list of 2018 – and Hugo winning the Unreasonable Person award at the London Business School’s 2019 Real Innovation Awards for showing “enormous tenacity and stubbornness in pursuing an idea, despite the difficulties encountered along the way”.
This incredible journey is now set to take to the highways across Wales and the UK, following successful beta trials in Abergavenny in April (and HRH Prince Charles giving his personal thumbs up after test-driving Rasa on his visit to Riversimple in early July). Partnerships are now being put in place with car sharing clubs and public organisations such as Monmouthshire County Council as part of their workplace fleet – and with a £180m million fundraise on course for completion, a fresh crowdfund about to close and a recently announced strategic collaboration with Siemens already gaining traction, this extraordinary enterprise is gearing up for volume production in Q2 of 2024.