Hugo Spowers, Founder and Project Leader, Riversimple
Riversimple determinedly don't think of themselves as a car manufacturer, although in terms of existing business models that's probably how they are too often described. Founder Hugo Spowers believes, perhaps unusually for someone engaged in manufacturing, that an industrial society based on the sale of products will never be resource efficient. Which puts a big question mark over pretty much every industry you can think of.
The motor industry began with a notorious innovation, when Ford said something like 'if I gave my customers what they wanted I would have had to invent faster horses.' As we are all aware, the motor industry is no longer fit for purpose, modern-day constraints are very different to those faced by Ford, but we have yet to see another such step-change in response. Unfortunately, as a hugely advanced, mature, specialised, technology specific industry—it is now ill-suited to achieving a step-change.Will Hutton earlier in the day (at The Big Rethink) introduced the term 'eco-innovation system'. What Riversimple are attempting to do is create an alternative eco-system around mobility and the personal vehicle. Hugo Spowers claims the real barriers lie in people, politics and business, not the technology. Accordingly, Riversimple's concept, although it uses cutting edge fuel cell technology, is primarily innovative in its business model: predicated on selling a mobility service rather than a car as a product.
If you sell cars, you only make more money by selling more cars - a model which leads to the greatest inefficiency (designing in obsolescence, etc). However if you're bearing the costs of leasing a car as part of a service, the attitude to that piece of technology - which is one part of the system - shifts radically. There is now a vested interest in reliability, longevity, efficiency. And they have designed the system as a whole, in contrast to the current standard business model for the motor industry. Their strategy is to look at the effects on and of the whole mobility system when making choices, rather than optimising the elements ('if you optimise elements you end up with a pessimised whole').
This is a good and rare example of rethinking to align the interests of the manufacturer and consumer, as well as finding a way of rewarding resource minimisation. Designing for non-consumption. The theory and effort, and complexity of solution, is admirable. All the IP is open-source to allow for maximum advancement and adoption of their ideas. And there is a genuine spirit of collaboration behind the project. Let's hope it works.
[Blogged live from The Economist's Big Rethink conference, London]