There's no engine, no gears and you can't actually own one. But is this sleek little car the shape of motoring to come?

Posted by Super User

What do the following products have in common: the Venner parking meter (1958), the Kodak Brownie 44A camera (1959), the Kenwood Mini Mixer (1972), the Adshel park bench (1972), the InterCity 125 (1976), and the type 3 Anglepoise lamp (2002)? 

Answer: they were all designed by the same bloke – Sir Kenneth Grange. 
You may know him if, like me, you had the immense pleasure of listening to him as one of Kirsty Young’s pre-Beckham castaways a couple of weeks ago.

Sir Kenneth is one of those fantastically upstanding gentlemen of a certain age (87 if you’re interested; not that you can tell from his crystal-clear voice and pin-sharp enunciation) who renders other, less upstanding gentlemen of another age (ie, me) insanely jealous and inadequate with his amazing tales of trailblazing derring-do from the golden age of real achievements.

Even his teenage recollections had me dizzy in wonder, like the time during WWII when he was one of the few people ever to actually see a Nazi V2 rocket fall murderously to earth. ‘Were you not scared?’ asked Kirsty. ‘No, it was just an extraordinary moment,’ replied Ken.

He would get on so well with my mum.

The secret of his success? Knowing what he wanted to do from the first moment he could remember. The only place Ken ever wanted to be was in the world of infinite possibilities that is art and design.

He set about realising his dream as soon as possible, and by the time the Festival of Britain came around in 1951, Ken says, ‘I was 22 years old with a big office and an E-Type in the garage. I was well set.’

Which is impressive, especially the E-Type bit, seeing as it didn’t go on sale until 1961 – unless he secretly designed that too, which I wouldn’t put past him.

Perhaps his most striking design classic is the InterCity 125, with its now familiar wedgeshaped nose. This he described as ‘my most enduring creation. It’s given me the greatest pleasure and is the only train that matters.’

I want to make a television show about Ken. Actually, that’s not true. I want to go out for dinner with him, and I want someone else to make a show about him that I can watch with my family while crying into my wine, wailing, ‘They don’t make them like Ken any more, which is why we don’t produce things half as good any more.’

However, my friends, all is not lost. At least, not while we have simmering pockets of genius like Riversimple beavering quietly away in the background.

You know a car company means business when the vehicle it is promoting arrives with a presentation party.

Riversimple’s consisted of no fewer than four passionate souls. There was Hugo Spowers, the company’s zealous boss and founding father. Then there was Fiona, his razorsharp wife. Bringing up the rear was Bill, an ex-army technician. And, finally, Andre, formerly of the Queen’s Flight (wow) and Williams F1, now loyally serving as Riversimple’s head of R&D.

They were nervous. I couldn’t wait to find out what they’re up to. Being engine-less, gearbox-less and driveshaft-less, immediately the Rasa starts to score brownie points (Rasa is taken from the Latin tabula rasa, by the way, which means ‘clean slate’).

Of course, some other cars can claim similar ‘deficiencies’ but not with a kerbweight of just 580kg, around half that of the average hatchback.

The super-skinny tyres, which are a bit daunting at first but more than up to the job, mean it has a smaller footprint and so no need for power steering – ergo, more unwanted pounds lost.

The result is that the Rasa feels almost like a glider to drive, in as much as it wants to flow with nature. And how about that design, with its cheeky scissor doors and catamaran-style underscoop?

I loved it and then was told why I loved it.

The Rasa’s striking form comes from the hand of Chris Reitz, the man behind the Fiat 500.

And so to the Rasa’s beating heart: its hydrogen fuel cell. This is the key. No bigger than a briefcase, the fuel cell mixes hydrogen with oxygen and by some magical alchemy produces electricity, which flows to the motors, and water, which either gently drips out from behind or rises dramatically in plumes of steam depending on the outside ambient temperature.

Hydrogen’s main energy rival in the car world is, of course, battery power, which is enjoying rising popularity.

It is undeniably way more emissions-friendly than diesel or petrol, but the weight of the batteries themselves is an issue. In fact, the Rasa is lighter than some of the batteries fitted to modern-day electric cars. What is more – and this stat may well mess with your head, as it did mine – the fuel cell has been designed to supply just 20 per cent of the power.

‘Eh, what?’ I hear you wonder. The Rasa recovers energy from the brakes as they slow the vehicle, and this provides the missing 80 per cent.

It all works amazingly well: 0-60mph in ten seconds, a comfortable cruising speed of 60mph and a range of 300 miles – and all from a 1.5kg tank of compressed hydrogen.

Riversimple’s secret, which it is more than happy for the world to copy, has been to start with the fuel cell and grow the car around it.

In contrast, other car-makers have tried to bully a hydrogen lump into a car that already exists – and spent $10 billion trying to make it work.

You won’t actually own a Rasa. Instead, you’ll lease it via an all-inclusive deal that includes fuel, servicing, road tax and insurance.

And the word on the street is that 2,000 people have already put their hand up for one. The first test fleet of 20 cars is due to hit the roads of Wales later this year.

 

‘Are you going to paint them in unmissable bright colours so everyone talks about them wherever they go?’ I asked the presentation party excitedly before we parted company Still nervous, but nowhere near as much as they were at the beginning, they paused, looked at each other for a moment and then, thank God, Fiona said, ‘Absolutely, YES!’ as if it had never been in doubt. 
Well I bloody well hope so. I love this car and everything it stands for. Riversimple: your country needs YOU. Keep calm and carry on. 
For more about this heroic and amazing British company, and how to get involved in its crowdfunding campaign, go to riversimple.com