Photo of the Urban hydrogen-fueled open source car via AboutMyArea.
Hugo Spowers could be doing everything wrong from a mainstream automobile design perspective: he's designed a hydrogen-powered car when hydrogen is fast losing adherents. The Urban is also a city-centric vehicle which will reach top speeds of only about 50 miles per hour, where most pundits think drivers want highway speeds and a 300-mile range. Last but not least, Spowers is attempting to create a car as a product service system - the cars will only be leased, and not only are the designs for the Urban open source, the company is also trying to get its suppliers to embrace the same open source mentality and reveal proprietary secrets out in the open for others to improve upon. The Urban decouples cruise and acceleration
Spowers, CEO of RiverSimple, realizes that hydrogen is a tough sell when hybrid electric and electric cars are now the media and political darlings. The cost of fuel cells, he admits, is an Achiles' heel for hydrogen-driven cars. But the two-seater Urban was designed to only do up to 50 miles per hour and has a lightweight composite shell in order to decrease the weight and the power requirements (it weighs around 350 kilos). While the power source is a fuel cell, the Urban has four wheel-based electric motors. Using a concept derived from Amory Lovins, the Urban's acceleration and cruise are 'decoupled' so that the fuel cell can be much smaller, with ultracapacitators assisting during the small amount of time when acceleration is needed. Regenerative braking recaptures energy to the electric motors.
The Urban uses a 6kW fuel cell (Honda's FCX Clarity uses a 100kW cell), and it will go from 0 - 30 mph in just under six seconds, according to the company, and get the equivalent of approximately 300 miles per gallon of fuel. Because it uses hydrogen converted from natural gas, will have carbon dioxide emissions of 30 g per kilometer.
Urban is expected to cost users about $325 per month to drive - around $.25 per mile according to the Guardian. Spowers said he thinks start-up companies can handle car manufacturing, especially if designs are open source and the car is made of composites instead of based on a steel body. The big car manufacturers, he says, are incapable of focusing their resources on truly disruptive technologies.
"By open-sourcing we build ourselves a much more robust model of a business," he said. "And, we're a niche too small to be of interest to the auto industry."
He said RiverSimple is hoping the average Urban will have a 16-year life span. The car is also consciously designed to be suitable for sharing - with card access for doors, and a removable 'briefcase' dashboard for users to take with them.
No introduction date has been yet given for the Urban.