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These Fuel Cell Cars Aren’t For Sale, But You Can Access Them For A Subscription Fee

Riversimple isn’t a car dealership, it’s a mobility as service company.

British startup Riversimple doesn’t want to sell you a car. It wants to sell you mobility. It will take care of the hassles of car ownership: maintenance, insurance, registration, fuel, and so on. All you have to do is pay a monthly fee, then drive the thing.

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The company’s foxy little Rasa car is powered by a hydrogen fuel-cell, and offers 300 miles on a single tank. It has a cruising speed of 60 mph and is designed for short-trips within a 25-mile radius. Riversimple plans to build local hydrogen filling-stations, serving a few hundred vehicles at a time. It’s launching a pilot in Wales in 2017, and hopes to roll out commercially in 2018.

Riversimple argues that selling mobility as a service, as opposed to ownership, changes the game in car development. It can invest in higher-grade materials to improve the efficiency of the car long-term, helping drivers save on running costs and costs of depreciation. “The sale of service model allows us to bring the technology to market at the same cost price long before supply chain costs come down to match those of petrol engines,” says Hugo Spowers, founder and chief engineer. “[Normally] making a car more efficient costs more and the customers will always discount future [efficiency] savings almost to the point of zero.”

The car’s 86 pounds of carbon fiber paneling is a good example of what Spowers means. It costs $2,470 more than a conventional car per per unit, he says, but the benefits in reduced weight more than offset the extra cost over the longer-term. “The car industry is very good at making cars appear cheaper than they really are, and customers are not used to bundling their total cost of ownership,” Spowers says. “In our case, it’s a simple monthly direct debt.” Riversimple plans to charge about $450 a month for the Rasa, plus 22 cents per mile on top of that.

Riversimple is part of a wave of mobility startups and initiatives from car companies. This year, Ford rolled out Ford Credit Link, which allows groups to share the lease cost of a car, and GM launched Maven, its on-demand rental platform. Millennials are eschewing car ownership in favor of Uber, Zipcar and other services that make not having a car easier. In the future, industry analysts expect fewer of to aspire to ownership, and more us to use shared mobility to get around.

Riversimple, founded in 2007, has been a funded mostly through public money. This year, it won a €2 million EU grant and is now hoping to match that through an equity crowdfunding campaign. Spowers is a long-time veteran of the British high-end car industry, as are many of the team working at Riversimple, according to their video, above.

At a lightweight 1,279 pounds, the Rasa may not be everyone’s driving taste. But it’s certainly highly engineered, with a powertrain of only 18 moving parts, electric motors in all four wheels, and a “kinetic energy recovery system” in the brakes. The beauty of the car is in the whole: its efficiency, low emissions, and sustainable business model. “The breakthrough we’ve achieved is in the systems integration and the whole efficient design of the vehicle,” Spowers says.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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