Prince Charles visits hydrogen car manufacturer
During a visit from the Prince of Wales, groundbreaking hydrogen-fuelled car company Riversimple showcased the clean, sustainable transport of the future. We hear how a relationship with Barclays is helping the manufacturer raise £180m to reach its destination.
Pedestrians in Llandrindod Wells may have spotted a familiar figure driving round the corner this week. At the wheel of a sporty metallic green prototype hydrogen-fuelled car was the Prince of Wales.
The prince was trialling the groundbreaking Rasa model by local car manufacturer Riversimple, on a visit to the Welsh business, which has ambitions to invest in new technologies and produce 25,000 cars per year, creating 1,100 direct jobs.
It’s been a long road to the royal test-drive for Riversimple and its Managing Director, Hugo Spowers. A former racing-car designer and engineer who left the motorsport industry over environmental concerns, Spowers founded Riversimple in 2001 with the ambition of eliminating the environmental impact of personal transport.
Since then, he says, the world has “caught up” with the need for more environmentally efficient cars, but the focus on battery vehicles is itself unsustainable, with hydrogen solutions also required.
Spowers’ ambition – beyond manufacturing cars – is to create a change in the business model of an industry and make it fit for the 21st century. New models, he feels, “have to make efficiency and sustainability profitable”. With the Rasa, he thinks he’s cracked it.
We’ve been ahead of the curve for a long time now, but everything in this industry we’ve been saying is important for 20 years is now generally appreciated to be important.
By minimising operating costs and selling mobility as a service, Riversimple has a “much more profitable model than the industry model today, with more revenue per unit”, argues Spowers, but to achieve this the company needs to scale. With prototypes on the road in two sites in Wales, Riversimple is looking for £180m in investment over the next four years to ultimately build five manufacturing plants in the country, potentially bringing thousands of direct and indirect jobs to Welsh communities.
Hydrogen vehicle technology, Spowers says, “is a real opportunity for the UK supply chain: it’s a nascent industry that plays to our skills where we can establish a global position”.
Introductions and advice from Barclays are helping with the revenue raise, partly through the bank-sponsored Impact Agora platform, while Barclays High Growth & Entrepreneurs has supported Riversimple with transactional services, business accounts and foreign currency solutions.
The relationship doesn’t stop there: Riversimple benefited from being part of one of the first cohorts to go through the Barclays-backed Unreasonable Impact programme, which has gone on to work with 192 ventures since its 2016 debut. The company has been helped by Cardiff’s Eagle Lab, where Lab Manager Niki Haggerty-James has been instrumental in connecting the business to network opportunities and potential revenue streams.
Ahead of the curve
Steven Roberts, Head of Culture and Chief Scientific Advisor for Barclays UK, was at the royal event and delighted to be in Llandrindod Wells, the small Powys town where his mother was raised. It was Roberts’ second meeting with the prince, having welcomed him to the Notting Hill Eagle Lab as part of a sustainability leadership initiative.
Barclays’ interests went beyond the straightforward banking that I would have assumed.
“We love what we do in the Eagle Labs,” says Roberts, “but that doesn’t need to be about the physical location, it can support people beyond the Labs, as Niki has with Riversimple.” Meeting the company in person, along with a “very enthusiastic” prince, Roberts says: “It’s a lovely company who’ve been on an amazing journey and have built a very respectable management team.”
Roberts is excited by the prospect of seeing the “most sustainable factory in the world” in mid-Wales, as the currently small enterprise aims to scale up. “The connections we can make and the association with us can make a huge difference at this stage,” he adds.
“The relationship with Barclays has really flourished since the Unreasonable Impact programme,” confirms Spowers. “I think that was a really groundbreaking initiative, and it's introduced us to a lot of very useful people over the years. Barclays’ interests went beyond the straightforward banking that I would have assumed when we joined the programme.”
He continues: “It’s coming to the fore now that we’ve started an institutional funding round. We’ve been way ahead of the curve for a long time now, an uncomfortable place to be, but everything in this industry we’ve been saying is important for 20 years is now generally appreciated to be important, and as we grow I expect that the Barclays relationship will also be ever more important.”