Cars > Encounter

The Riversimple Rasa is a hydrogen-powered car that’s designed for fun

It’s a lightweight vehicle that will soon hit the streets of Wales

The Riversimple Rasa is an electric car that does not use any batteries. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Oftentimes, writing about green cars isn’t the most exciting activity in the automotive world. After all, the tech in something like a Toyota Prius or a Nissan Leaf might be really impressive, but they are just normal cars and unlikely to affect the rate of our motoring heartbeat in any thrilling way. Luckily, there are exceptions to this rule, and the Riversimple Rasa is definitely one of them. While it is greener than pretty much any other car out there, it is also more exciting and futuristic than most others as I found out while spending some time with the vehicle and its inventor recently.

Let’s start with the basic. The Rasa is an electric car, but it doesn’t have any batteries. Instead, it has a hydrogen fuel cell that creates electricity, which is then sent to four electric motors—one in each wheel. The fuel cell only has around 11hp, which is enough to keep the car cruising at 100km/h. But to get it up to that speed in under 10 seconds, its inventors have used a very clever method. When the car brakes, the kinetic energy is captured as electricity and briefly stored in a bank of supercapacitors located at the front of the vehicle. Step on the accelerator and the capacitors will instantly send all that juice to the motors, giving the Rasa a very unique and quite rapid acceleration profile.

This whole car weighs less than the battery pack of a Tesla. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

The car can travel almost 500km on a full tank, which consists of just 1.7kg of hydrogen. In gasoline- or diesel-car terms, this is the equivalent of achieving over 100km per liter of fuel. Part of the secret behind this performance is the fact that this vehicle is extremely light. The chassis is made from carbon fiber (by the same guy who designed the chassis for the McLaren F1, no less) and everything on it is designed with weight reduction in mind to a level that would make Colin Chapman proud. Coincidentally, two of the company’s engineers actually worked with Chapman when he was still alive, so you could say there’s some of his DNA in this machine.

The finished two-seater only weighs 654kg, which is less than the weight of a battery pack on a Tesla Model S, and therefore performs like a proper little sports car. While driving around the TT course with company boss Hugo Spowers behind the wheel, I more than once remembered how narrow the tires on this machine are, and was convinced we were about to crash at the next corner. My mind simply couldn’t compute how a car rolling on tiny 115mm-wide rubber, originally designed as the front tires for the Volkswagen XL1, could corner so quickly, but of course physics was on our side! An extremely light car doesn’t need wide shoes to stick to the ground.

If by now you’re asking for its price, the answer is there isn’t one. Riversimple doesn’t sell the cars outright. Instead, the company has created a usage model where drivers pay a monthly amount that includes everything you need to be mobile. And it really means everything. Not only does the monthly subscription cover use of the car, road tax, insurance and maintenance, but fuel is also included. While the final figures haven’t been confirmed yet, the company aims to make using the Rasa cost about as much as you would pay to drive around in a midsize diesel car today. If successful, that would be a very tempting proposition indeed.

This little two-seat machine is strong but lightweight, and is fun to drive. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

As for the fuel: hydrogen can easily be produced in a variety of ways, and in a country such as the Philippines, it would be entirely feasible to have solar-powered production facilities for this. The whole idea that the company always owns the car and that everything is designed to minimize the impact on the environment is what makes the company’s concept so different from hydrogen car projects of the likes of Toyota. The Mirai might be a beautiful machine, but it’s just a standard car that had a fuel cell and some batteries fitted. The Rasa on the other hand, fundamentally rethinks how hydrogen can be used in private transportation.

The company has been around since 2016 and the car you see depicted here is the latest, almost production-ready, version. It is currently being trialed with real-life customers on a small scale in Wales, where Riversimple is based. The information gathered from this trial will then feed into the production vehicles. Mass production will likely start in 2025, whereby the numbers to be produced will still be way below what bigger manufacturers churn out. It will likely remain a niche vehicle, but one that shows a radically different way to think about personal transportation and tackle the climate change crisis. Having experienced the genius engineering in this machine firsthand now, I sincerely hope that it will succeed in leading the way for hydrogen vehicles.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.