Is the failure of 100 year old car manufacturers clearing a path for a new breed of smaller, greener automotive companies? Perhaps. Certainly with small businesses such as the UK's Riversimple, it seems like this might be the case.
The company motto of Riversimple "is to move people sustainably." In partnership with Cambridge University, they have been working on a two seater, hydrogen and electricity powered Riversimple Urban Car (RUC). Although they have had only a around $1,000,000 USD to develop their design with, a prototype of the Riversimple Urban Car has been coming together well, and is receiving a great deal of attention.
Powered by electricity from braking stored in 'ultra-capacitors', and a relatively small 6 kW hydrogen fuel cell, the Urban Car can travel 240 miles fully charged, has a top speed of around a 80km/hr, and only weighs around 350kg.
Not only is the engine technology remarkable for the Urban Car. In addition to the cutting-edge green technology used, the Riversimple has also organized the company along more modern, 21st century ideas. For starters, the design of the Urban Car is open source. The idea is that that the car will be made in smaller quantities, in smaller, spread-out, plants. The hope is that cities and regions interested in the Urban Car will birth small manufacturing plants, and these plants will be allowed to modified the design of the car as they see fit -- for example, perhaps in one town there might be a start-up company working on advanced batteries, so the design could be changed to use these local parts.
The Open Source license for the car's design will encourage quicker development of the car, will bring new, interested people to the project, and will hopefully lower production costs. If any of the small car-plants come up with any great ideas for the Urban Car, it is thought that these ideas would raise to the top, so to speak, and be incorporated in future 'builds' of the car.
Promoting local manufacturing efforts for the car is also important because a network of hydrogen refueling stations is needed. Riversimple is a small company, without and massive funds available to them, so they are aiming for grass-roots growth: one community at a time.
Riversimple's primary goal is to transform personal mobility into a more sustainable, more efficient industry. This idea stands in bold contrast to the most common goal of automotive manufacturing companies, which is to generate profits for shareholders.
You can't buy an Urban Car -- instead, the company leases them out. Both fuel and repair costs for the Urban Cars will be included in the lease price, which aims to be around $300 USD a month.
10 more Urban Car prototypes will be built next year, and the company hopes to offer them to the public in 2013.