Wales has a longstanding tradition of innovation in the automotive industry. The Rasa is the latest and arguably most radical – a hydrogen fuel cell car that forms part of Riversimple’s ambition to eliminate the environmental impact of personal transport.
Not many car designs set out to change the world. From Powys to the planet, start-up company Riversimple has spent 15 years developing the technology and business strategies that have led to its carbon-fibre Rasa vehicle. Founder Hugo Spowers has a track record in good-looking motors.
“I used to build racing cars – I loved it, but I got out for environmental reasons. We need to move on from combustion engines. I started looking at all the options – I didn’t even know about hydrogen fuel cells, initially, but when I did I realised that we needed to build and sell a car in a different way. We sell mobility as a service, much like a mobile phone. You pay a monthly direct debit and that covers all your costs – and when I say all, I really mean it, including for example insurance and fuel.
Coming to Wales has been much better than we ever expected. We didn’t realise just what advantages it would have. We get a lot of support from the Welsh Automotive Forum. It’s fantastic for us, being able to leapfrog and establish cross-sectoral collaborations. We’ve also got a fantastic relationship with the Welsh Government and they really have been extremely supportive. This is a much better environment than if we’d stayed across the border; for what we’re doing, it’s easier to do it here in Wales.
“The car’s name comes from Tabula Rasa, a clean slate, not just because we are building a different kind of car but also a different kind of business. We’ve got an entirely new business model to suit the 21st century. The scale of Wales, the attitude and the opportunity to create relationships more quickly here has made it a lot easier for us to progress. When we speak to people in the government, right up to the Minister who came to see us a few weeks ago, that attitude is very obvious. Everybody comes to the conversation on the basis of, ‘what can we do to help?’
“We are doing many things in different ways, to suit the new technology and to turn the constraints of sustainability into a source of competitive advantage, but there doesn’t seem to be anything that we want to do that they want to brush under the carpet. It is a very genuine, collaborative relationship and they are very creative about making suggestions on helping with the barriers that we face. There is a mandate in Welsh Government to support the sort of things we’re doing and a receptive attitude to us.
“The skills you need to make a step change are all about systems integration. We are facing a step change, not only in the automotive sector; in the whole green growth transition, the same thing applies. In such circumstances, agility and cross-sectoral collaboration are more important than scale and I really think there are opportunities now for Wales to punch above its weight. There is no doubt in my mind at all that in Wales we’ve achieved a much greater and wider network of relationships much more quickly than we would have been able to elsewhere.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to tell anyone to come to Wales – I wish we’d have come here a bit earlier, quite frankly.”
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