It’s a prototype that combines green technology with sleek automotive engineering. The name references the Latin phrase tabula rasa, usually translated as 'a clean slate,' but its profile owes much to classic sports cars of the past. It even has gullwing doors, reflecting such iconic models as the Mercedes-Benz 300SL and the DeLorean DMC-12 made famous in Back to the Future.
Hugo Spowers, Riversimple’s founder and chief engineer, hopes to start a revolution in sustainable motoring from his headquarters in Llandrindod Wells, Mid Wales. He says: "The automotive industry has been very successful for over 100 years, but the motor car is no longer fit for purpose. We started with a clean piece of paper, imagining a point of sustainability in the future and working backwards from it."
The Rasa is a proudly Welsh product, and the first entirely homegrown car since the last Gilbern sports coupés rolled out of Pontypridd in the early 1970s. It’s fitting that the technology underpinning it can trace its ancestry to the work of Sir William Grove, the Swansea-born scientist who first produced electricity with a hydrogen cell in the 1840s.
The first production-ready Rasa was unveiled in 2016, and an initial run of 20 Rasas has been undergoing testing. While it’s designed for the city rather than the open road, and has a range of around 480km (300 miles) on a full tank of hydrogen, it’s certainly no sluggard. The Rasa can reach its maximum speed of 95km/h (60mph) in nine-and-a-half seconds.
That the car should be a nippy performer is perhaps no surprise. Hugo started his career in motor racing, once competing in the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race. "It’s a lot of fun on these country roads," he says. "It’s simple and seamless to drive, with no gears and a light feel. You don’t need an instruction manual."
The Rasa is engineered to be lighter than a battery car, requiring less energy. "I credit Elon Musk for shaking up the industry with Tesla, but electric cars are really just a stop-gap solution," he says.
The aim is to build up to an annual production of 5,000 Rasas from 2021 onwards, for which the company plans to employ around 220 people – almost all from the local community. And for those who can’t wait to get their hands on the steering wheel, it’s worth knowing that Riversimple is also taking an alternative approach to selling the vehicles.
Buyers will enter into a service contract, paying a monthly sum (around £370) and a small fee for every mile travelled. The expectation is that running a Rasa will be as economical as owning a small diesel saloon car.
Hugo’s long-term objective is not just a modest reduction in the environmental impact of motoring, but almost to eliminate it. He points out that the motor industry has been slow to embrace change, with electric vehicles still accounting for less than two per cent of all new cars sold. But with the UK and France announcing their intention to end new petrol and diesel car sales by 2040, a step-change is coming – and, he believes, it’s a chance for Wales to lead the world.
Overall, the Rasa is just one part of Hugo’s grander vision of a sustainable future for mass transport. He says: "There are too many cars, too much congestion and not enough investment in mass transport. But the answer is not banning cars – it’s about fostering more opportunity for many different solutions."