The future of the auto industry – perhaps

If you were starting a car company from scratch, to what extent would you replicate the way things are done now? Hugo Spowers, founder of Riversimple, would probably say: “Not even to the slightest degree.”

“We’re selling a service, not a car,” Mr Spowers says of his new vehicle, which will be unveiled at Somerset House on the Strand in London tomorrow (images of the car will be available on their web site on this day). The Riversimple urban car is – over-used word coming up, but justifiable in this case – revolutionary. It is a lightweight vehicle, with a body made from resin composites. It is fuelled by hydrogen. It has four electric motors, one on each wheel, and it regenerates energy on braking. It will be leased for use, not sold.

Perhaps most revolutionary of all, it has been designed and created through an “open source” approach. After signing up for a (free) licence, anyone can take part in helping to provide necessary intellectual property.

Compare the ailing auto giants of America, GM and newly-acquired Chrysler. They produce huge numbers of heavy vehicles which may or may not be sold. They use masses of non-renewable energy. Even the new hybrid vehicles require large amounts of electricity, which have to be generated somehow.

Riversimple’s car may not be the answer. It is certainly still a protoype. It is a lightweight vehicle, 350kg, and critics will have concerns about safety. But in the future city dwellers (and administrators) are bound to ask themselves how much sense it makes for people to own quite so many polluting cars. Mr Spowers deserves a fair, renewable, following wind.

About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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