Hypercar! The People's Car!

100+ mpg equivalent
350-mile range
Zero-emission
1,820-lbs (825-kg) curb weight
1/2 ton payload and towing capacity, hauls up to 30% grade
More than 90 ft3 cargo space
Advanced design for superior crash energy management
0-60 mph acceleration in 8.5 sec
Independent, four wheel traction & adjustable ride height
Wireless vehicle health monitoring & servicing
Vehicle electronics during manufacture & recycling
Electronically controlled suspension for superior ride comfort
Upgradeable entertainment, communication, & telematics systems
User-tailored display, voice controls, & active safety preferences

There's only two instances I can remember when the world saw the rise of a real people car. When Ford started mass producing the Model-T and when Hitler, in a rare case of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, inspired by the German helmet, drew the shape of the VW on a napkin. The bug became a car the entire world over has loved to customize ever since, maybe because you needed to be a contortionist to change the spark plugs. It was easier to just drop the engine block! After that, only the Soviet Union produced cars people could take apart and put back together again with just a monkey wrench. Built-in obsolescence became the order of the day. The harder it is for car owners to do their own maintenance, the more money car companies make providing services.

All this is about to change as the automobile is now becoming just another appliance, like your fridge or your TV set. Some car companies have already hinted they might by-pass dealerships all together to sell new models directly to the public, just like computers. It would have happened already had not dealerships reacted very strongly to this cut-out-the-middle-man tactic. Car companies quickly backed down from the notion... until they can get away with it, that is.

Just on the horizon is a new generation of automobiles fashioned for suburban and city driving. Vehicles which will make breathing, parking and driving easier. A step up from the golf car, a step down from the Yuppie Assault Vehicle. What Amory Lovins has been proposing with the Hypercar, much like what Swatch had originally proposed with the SMART before Daimler Benz stole it away from them, is a car just as safe as a Formula One car, built just like one from a cocoon of reinforced fiber materials, but for the average Joe. Think bumper car for adults.

On December 6th 2000 I attended the ceremony for the People's Action for Clean Energy lifetime achievement award, that year given to Amory. PACE is the Connecticut citizens action group most involved with educating the public about the dangers of nuclear power and its renewable alternatives. PACE has been around for over 20 years. The dinner was held at the University of Connecticut's Health Center, a looming and imposing circular monstrosity of a building perched up a hill overlooking a valley like a medieval castle. The only thing missing was the mote! Remind me not to get sick. 

A local solar architect and I drove up in his brand new Toyota Prius. We averaged about 48 miles to the gallon round trip from Westport to Farmington. You could tell Amory was thrilled to get the opportunity to speak in front of a professional audience. Most in attendance were either avid environmental activists, local governmental representatives, or green builders. So he skipped 101 and went straight for the main course.

He used a state-of-the-art laptop projection system with animated computer graphics which was a real step up from the usual slide show presentation. A little earlier I had a chance to talk with Thomas Crumm, the new CEO & President of Hypercar, Inc. A transcript follows. Then further, I edited a few of Amory's comments about the Hypercar from his presentation.

At first Thomas Crumm was a little apprehensive granting me an interview because they promised an exclusive to the Wall Street Journal. But after I explained I was no threat to such an institution, he let me turn on my tape recorder. 

Remy C.
- So how is the Hypercar doing?

T.Crumm
- It's doing fine. We are on schedule, we're on budget.

RC
- What company is actually going to develop it? What company in Detroit is involved with it now?

TC
- None of them. We're doing it ourselves. We are using the expertise of an engineering house in England. 

RC
- Which is?

TC
- I can't say yet. But that house has a virtual reality cave, crash simulation capability, ability to build the clay models, a pretty good group of engineers for conventional steel cars. We're working with them, explaining what Amory has developed over the past decade in terms of what should be feasible and we're turning that into actual specifications for a vehicle.

(Note: The Wall St. Journal article revealed a month later on Jan 9th that the company is TWR Group Ltd, Leafield Technical Centre, Witney, Oxfordshire
OX8 5PS, Tel: 011-44-1993-871000. Contact: ex-Skunkworks David Taggart & Craig Wilson. BP Amoco has invested $500,000 in the project. Green Mountain Energy chairman Sam Wyly: $1 million. Swiss investment fund Terra Trust has pledged $1.5 million.)

RC 
- Where do you think the plant with be? Do you plan to do one in the US? Here or abroad?

TC
- That's still up in the air... We're getting a little bit of enticement from both Europe and the US. We don't have to decide for another year and a half.

RC
- It's a year and a half away from the first prototype?

TC
- Beginning a site, yes. We do have a concept car, that will be in the RMI Journal.

RC
- Built, ready to show?

TC
- We're already showing it to private investors to get them excited.

RC
- Is there going to be a public unveiling of the prototype?

TC
- I don't think so. I don't think there's a need to at this point. Just the private showings for now. Perhaps in a year from now.

RC
- Is the prototype functioning?

TC
- No. It's a show car. It's not a working prototype.

RC
- A life size mule?

TC
- Yes. The subsystems that go into it is what we're working on now. You can use a conventional car and put in a subsystem and test it, and drive it. That's what you do with a mule.

RC
- That car is at Rocky Mountain Institute?

TC
- No. It's currently in England. It will be shipped here tail end of December.

RC
- Made in England?

TC
- Right.

RC
- Do you know the organization NEDRA?

TC
- No.

RC
- The National Electric Drag Racing Association. Some of their members would like to participate in the development of the Hypercar.

TC
- I would certainly be glad to talk to them. We're going to be in a position where we are going to need some people very shortly. Might be a good source to draw from.

RC
- I'll send you a back file of articles about them.

TC
- I'll be glad to look at it. I've often wondered if there was a drag racing group. I was thinking about that about three or four months ago...

RC
- The publisher of Electrifying Times has a world record for electric motorcycles.

TC
- In drag racing you can carry enough batteries. But for a vehicle like ours you would need a fuel cell.

RC
- Are you familiar with Evercel in Connecticut?

TC
-No.

RC
- They are an offshoot of Energy Research Corporation which has been making military fuel cells for many years. Their stock last year was at $16. It's now at $160, been split three times. They used to make the nickel components for Ovonics. Evercel now makes a very commercially attractive Nickel-Zinc battery. Their R&D is in Danbury. Their plant is near Shanghai.

TC
- When I get back I'll ask my guys about Nickel-Zinc. Absolutely.

RC
- There's a lot of work to be done and it's all taking too long.

TC
- We're trying to hurry it up.

RC
- How many Hypercar reports did you actually sell? You were selling them for $17.000.

TC
- Before my time. I think more than 30. That was just a feasibility study to say: "Was the academic work possible?" We're now making an evolution from what was in those papers and what we've built now is the concept car that defines not just the academic work but what's in the market and what will be available.

RC
- Is the study available to the general public?

TC
- We have an obligation to the people who paid for the report to still restrict it to them.

RC
- So you're not giving it away?

TC
- No. You can ask Amory about that. It's really more RMI than Hypercar. 

RC
- That would be the first question from the folks at NEDRA: "Let's read the report, see how much they know and then let's try to see if we can fill in the blanks."

TC
- I'll be anxious to read about NEDRA. Sounds very interesting.

RC
- I'll put you in touch with them. Thanks for your time.

(As of April 2001, Thom is no longer with Hypercar. Stay tuned to this page for more details as I find them. Remy C.)

Amory and I sat at the same table during the dinner. (Hospital food, yes! But the Merlot was wonderful... What was it? I forgot to write it down.) So I had a chance to ask him about a couple of people we mutually know: Hal Puthoff and Gene Mallove. Hal is a physicist investigating zero-point energy fluctuations, and Gene is the editor of Infinite Energy magazine, a trade publication for cold fusion research, of which Amory said: "Interesting stuff in there!" 

Cold fusion cells are but slightly improved fuel cells after all. Amory often runs into Hal and Gene at conferences, and given the opportunity, surely would love to spend more time talking about new energy possibilities, networking some results into industry, as he did with previous sustainable energy technologies. But we live in a practical world and if the Hypercar is to be a viable commercial success, it must apply off-the-shelf components.


Amory receiving his award from PACE founder Judi Friedman

Such cars will not sell because they are clean and efficient, but because they are superior cars that redefine customer expectation, much as we now buy compact disks instead of vinyl phonograph records. That's not because poly carbonate ever became cheaper than polyvinyl chloride. It's just because the digital media is a better product. And indeed the new way of manufacturing such a car with the new materials reduces up to about 10 folds the required capital investment, product cycle time, assembly effort of space, parts count to the body of the whole car, so early adopters win! 

The vehicle get three times lighter because we're figuring out how to make advance composite bodies at high volume and at low cost meeting all the requirements. It's especially convenient to use direct hydrogen fed fuel cells because now the tanks carrying the compressed hydrogen gas become small enough to fit conveniently into the car. You need good electronics and software to tie it all together of course. It emits nothing but hot drinking water so we can put a coffee machine in the dashboard. (laughter from the audience.) If has none of the top twenty causes of breakdowns in today's cars, but all the flexibility and customizability and upgradability of a computer with wheels, not a car with chips. It has most of its functionality in software and it does its tune-up, diagnostic and upgrades wirelessly in the background. We think we know how to do that!

I didn't much like the idea of patenting and auctioning  the intellectual property and hoping the single buyer would succeed with it and not sit on it. That gives you one shot at success, not a very good one! So instead following the free software model, I put the work in the public domain and got everyone fighting over it. By now about $10 billion dollars has been committed to this line of development, double about every year and a half. That's very gratifying . There's still important cultural barriers to doing these eight or ten leap frogs all at once, especially in large organizations. In the history of technology, disruptive technology's very seldom come out of the industry they are changing. They usually come from outsiders.

This has not been shown to an American audience before. Here's where we've been. We've incubated this work within RMI's Hypercar Center for 2 million dollars for 7 years. Then we joined with industrial partners, hired Lotus engineering in the UK to do a million dollar feasibility study in '98. That turned out well so we turned it into a business. We're just completing with a noted British house a 4 million dollar start-up phase to build a concept car, and we're now raising 44 million dollars equity against revenue to do a 2 year intensive validation and manufacturing innovations and hardware design involving about 20 prototype vehicles. Then we do production scale up and finally build some more and accelerate volume production over the next couple of years. Ultimately Hypercars are going to save as much oil as OPEC now sells.

I hope it's all money well spent! I hope Amory won't be the Tucker or DeLorean of his generation, and that circumstances will give him a chance to bring his Hypercar to market. I hope the folks at Hypercar will give NEDRA a holler, and not shy away from these renegade electrical ampheads who do more with less than anyone ever imagined. Their members have the high voltage enthusiasm necessary to pull something like that off. 

If Amory can let the Hypercar become the new "people car", then it might easily ride that ground swell of support. I don't see keeping the Hypercar a hermetic intellectual and engineering process yielding a positive outcome. First the Hypercar "name" needs to win a few races, drag races or otherwise, in front of screaming fans sold on an idea, just to make the point: "Who's the best?" That's when Detroit will finally have to relinquish its century old monopoly on the family car.

Right now only Honda & Toyota sells a car even remotely resembling what Amory has in mind. For years Amory gave Detroit the chance to take him on, but they passed. Now Hypercar is in the big bad world all on its own. Independent automobile projects come and go like so many monopoly crushed egos. If Hypercar garnished the enthusiasm of Americans, and could benefit from good ol'fashion American know-how, then it might stand a chance. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

There are few practical details about the Hypercar on either the RMI or Hypercar websites, except for this interesting page about materials: http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid422.asp (No mention of bubble metals though, which in my opinion hold great promise.)

Feedback from Bruce Meland, 
NEDRA member & publisher of Electrifying Times:

"I know he is committed but in a visionary sense. This hypercar dream is a good one and it is what gives him visibility to be a PHD consultant and speaker and make tons of money off the idea. NEDRA should supply the tech support not the other way around. Getting NEDRA to do anything in an organized fashion with Amory would be next to impossible. All members are self-anointed ego based and would not take the time to give him the time of day. Money is a big thing to develop it and it will take a big company to take it over like Daimler Benz did to the Swatch. Toyota has the e-com which is crash worthy and salable. The hypercar will be hard to get crash worthiness and will be difficult to drive on main highways where it is needed on a mass basis. The SUV's will run it over. The big car companies have their own agenda and when the time is right they will come out with their own hypercar. Probably around 2020. He and his wife Hunter are making a lot of money and enjoying consulting and speaking and encouraging a transportation revolution and they will continue to live well till 2020 just on ideas. They do that best."

Amory's  Answer Thursday, January 25, 2001:

From: Amory B Lovins ablovins@rmi.org
To: Bruce Meland etimes@teleport.com 

Dear Bruce,

At the end of http://www.remyc.com/hypercar.html I just noticed a little interview box with you. Two small points of clarification:

- The consulting and speaking fees that Hunter and I earn go directly to Rocky Mountain Institute, not to ourselves.

- The uncompromised midsized-SUV-replacement concept car recently developed by Hypercar, Inc. (details to be posted shortly on www.hypercar.com ) will actually be safer than the heavy steel SUVs it could hit. For example, the concept car is designed to meet Federal 30-mph fixed-barrier crash standards for occupant safety when colliding head-on with a car twice its weight, each going 30 mph. In addition, it is designed for an undamaged passenger safety cell in a 35-mph fixed barrier crash, after which one would merely replace the front-end module. Sophisticated simulations confirm these results. They will be checked empirically later in the vehicle's development. 

As will become clear in due course, Hypercar, Inc. has considerable technical depth and capable industrial partners. However, if you feel that NEDRA or its members would be interested in contributing technically to the development of Hypercar vehicles, I expect the firm would be glad to hear from you or them and to explore possibilities. The appropriate initial contact would be Dr Jonathan Fox-Rubin, COO, jfr@hypercar.com.

Best wishes
Amory B. Lovins

To contact the folks at Hypercar go to:
www.hypercar.com

To contact NEDRA go to:
www.nedra.com

To contact Evercel go to:
www.evercel.com

To contact PACE, first go to:
www.remyc.com/solaronschools.html

To contact TWR Group Ltd. go to:
www.twr.co.uk 

Terra Trust Investment AG
Grundstrasse 12, CH - 6343 Rotkreuz ZG, Schweiz
Tel  ++41-(0)41-790 50 37
Fax ++41-(0)41-790 01 86
Email: Urs.Lustenberger@wlg-zrh.com
www.terratrust.com   

Recent article about HyperCar's progress:
http://www.stanfordalumni.org/news/magazine/2001/sepoct
Look in departments
Click bright ideas

Hypercar Update from the Fleets & Fuels Special Edition (Volume VIII, Number 24 December 17, 2001) of the EVAA Electric Transportation Industry Conference:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ETList/message/149 

 

Remy Chevalier www.remyc.com