Why do you have to own a car? Why do you have to buy a new one every once in a while?
After writing how the COVID-19 infection has presented us a world without oil, I remembered that there are other aspects of the way we live today that could also change. Our everlasting impulse to have the best and newest of anything, for example. How programmed obsolescence has been conceived to stimulate and surf that drive. The amount of trash and depletion of natural resources that this behavior causes. What if we get rid of that and car ownership in a world without oil? That is what Riversimple has proposed for quite some time already.
What made me remember that idea was, among other things, Tesla’s new Unsupported Vehicle Policy. Or the company’s promise to allow for an upgrade on the MCUv1 that thankfully was fulfilled last on March 3. The owners that signed the online petition for that said Tesla seemed to want them just to dump their old cars and get a new one to have that issue fixed.
To be honest, we remembered Tesla first because it is the company people want to know about – hence the one we cover the most. But there are bad examples of that with Nissan and PSA, for example. Both companies charge unreal prices for battery pack replacements, respectively, for the Leaf and Peugeot iOn/Citroën C-Zero. They just do not seem to care for reuse, reduce, and recycle.
Riversimple does. In fact, it was born because of that. The Welsh company, which dates back to 2001, proposed a revolutionary car in 2009: the Riversimple Urban Car – RUC for short. In 2016, the company presented the Rasa, and I wrote an extensive article about it on my own website, Motorchase.
At the time, I managed to interview Hugo Spowers, the company founder, and he offered me a lot of his time and resources to explain what Riversimple meant to do. Unfortunately, the article never had the reach that I wanted it to have, and the idea was still mocked by people that just could not get it. I am sure some just refused to, which makes them look even worse.
Spowers mentioned that the primary issue we have today is this: the way our economy and industry work, they are not sustainable. Even if we recycle all the cars and components that are dumped every year, we will still need to extract more from nature. And the planet’s resources are limited.
Gallery: Riversimple Wants To Kill Programmed Obsolescence: Check The Network EV
That is what made Riversimple conceive not only the Rasa but its whole business model. The Rasa is much less important than the idea it represents. And it starts by killing car ownership altogether.
Forget about the idea of car sharing. That may seem sustainable, clean, environmentally responsible, but that sucks. A car is an extension of your home. You leave your personal belongings in it. Your sunglasses for when it is impossible to drive without them. A gift, a blouse, sports gear, food, whatever: you know they are mostly safe there.
You cannot have that with a shared vehicle. Most do not want a car that someone else will take in an hour or two unless they do not care about it, only about getting anywhere. Autolib’ vehicles in Paris were shared EVs that even had urine inside. I saw that myself when the program was still active.
Apart from this gross possibility, think about a shared ride in COVID-19 times. Would you take a car you did not know that was correctly sanitized? Wouldn’t it help spread the virus if it wasn’t? It is a lousy idea, no matter how you look at it.
That is where the Riversimple proposition fits perfectly. You sign a contract that does not give you the property of the car, but you’ll be the only one to use it. You’ll pay for mobility as a service but will drive the vehicle as if it was really yours. You’ll pay a monthly fee and get everything included: servicing, insurance, and even fuel. That’s because all Riversimple vehicles will use fuel cells. But not as you are used to seeing.
Riversimple created what it calls network electric car. It relies on fuel cells and supercapacitors rather than on batteries. First, because they get and release electricity much faster than a battery. Second, because they are also much lighter and cheaper, but it has to do more with energy efficiency than with price – even if that also helps.
The fuel cell is enough to keep the car moving when it is already in motion. That makes it much cheaper than the one used on the Toyota Mirai or the Hyundai Nexo, for example. When the wheel-hub electric motors need more energy, it comes from the supercapacitors, but let’s not divert. You can find more technical details on it on their website. Our goal here is the business model.
Since Riversimple pays for the hydrogen you use, it is the company’s interest that the vehicle is as efficient as possible. Considering the car belongs to the company, if it needs any repair, it will be out of Riversimple’s pockets. In other words, it is in the company’s best interests that it is ultra-dependable.
What about damages in accidents or fragile parts? If they break, you already know who will pay for that, either directly or with more expensive insurance. The same happens if someone dies in an accident in a Riversimple, so they have to be very safe.
The cars will not be replaced as we currently do when buying a new one: they will be upgraded. The changes are included in the monthly fee because the benefit is not yours. It is Riversimple’s. All that saves resources and kills programmed obsolescence: The cars are built to last.
When you do not need this EV anymore, you can give it back to the company – or change it for a different vehicle they offer – so that someone else can keep using that car in the same way you did. Besides the Rasa, you will have other body options: a sedan, a van, a station wagon… Whatever customers ask for.
Just like you imagined a world without oil, imagine one in which businesses are not rewarded for large scale production. Or for making more and selling more. Instead, they get more customers by offering better products that can be used for many years.
It may be Riversimple or any other carmaker. It may apply to houses, cell phones, home appliances, anything. As long as the idea Riversimple proposes resonates with more people in search of a better and more sustainable world, I will consider that spreading this word has been finally successful. I hope you are among the ones that get it.