1/1/2001 | 3 MINUTE READ

Here Comes Hypercar

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Hypercar, Inc.’s Chairman Amory Lovins and President & CEO, Tom Crumm, spoke at our e-Business Essentials: Job1 conference in November, outlining their idea for the next generation vehicle—one that is extremely lightweight, has zero emissions, and can be built to order and shipped to consumers in a matter of weeks. It sounds like only so much auto industry buzz…but is that all it is?


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“Hire only passionate missionaries” 
—Rule #5 from the book Radical Marketing by Sam Hill & Glenn Rifkin

Listening to Hypercar’s Amory Lovins and Tom Crumm speak at AM&P's e-Business Essentials: Job1 conference in November, the first thing that struck me was that they don’t believe in Hypercar and its grander, environmental purpose…they BELIEVE.

Lovins definitely perked up the ears of those in attendance—and not just when he was talking alternative fuel at an e-business conference. It was also because he very logically led attendees to the question: Why is the auto industry only flirting with the idea of alternative-fuel vehicles? Lovins and Crumm submit that it would not only be feasible, but relatively simple to make the transition from traditional autos to hydrogen-powered, lightweight cars.

Making such an assertion is one thing. Executing it is another.

The Plan

Bold as it sounds, the Hypercar gang plans on doing an end run around the whole enviro-political, slow-moving, business-as-usual auto industry. The time is ripe for change, says Lovins, and there are several factors contributing to his belief:

Hypercar's concept
The SUV, shown here, is one of Hypercar's concepts. It is said to feature Mercedes-like safety & comfort (it seats six adults comfortably-probably more uncomfortably): BMW-like acceleration and handling; a flexible, wireless, software-dominated electronic control system; and its only emission is hot water.

• Like all commodities, the oil market will continue to be perfectly random, offering consumers no more stability than they have now.

• While this is happening, “disruptive technologies” are cropping up in non-traditional places (i.e., anywhere but Detroit).

• As these new technologies develop they begin to “interbreed.” In the Hypercar case, composite material technologies are being mated with hydrogen fuel cell technology to create an extremely lightweight, fuel-efficient car.

• Accelerating all of this disruption and interbreeding is the Internet. Not only is it a new medium to spread the word, but it is also a new medium in which to set up a new business model for the purchase of vehicles.

Lovins has been watching these factors accumulate for years, and has been cultivating his resources and his company as they develop. The first step was to take the concept and have his first non-profit company, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), put it in the public domain, basically ensuring no one could patent the idea. Out of RMI sprang Hypercar Center, another non-profit. This one is charged with developing the technologies and the car. It’s interesting to note here, that they took a clean-sheet approach to the Hypercar, both in terms of the vehicle’s design and the design of the process by which the car will be made. Out of Hypercar Center spun Hypercar, Inc.

“We felt that there were some important cultural barriers to making all those leap-frogs at once,” says Lovins. “That left key competitive gaps to be exploited by the agile and uninhibited. We spun out Hypercar as a for-profit last year to do that.”

The Car

While elements of the Hypercar emerge out of the existing OEMs every now and again these guys in Colorado may be the first to take on the production of a composite-rich, fuel cell vehicle with zero emissions. The company’s design strategy is as follows:

• Key to the company’s design strategy is lower mass (the goal here is a three-fold reduction). To do so, the car’s body migrates from metal to a manufacturable advanced composite. This lowers the energy it takes to make the car go, enabling the efficient use of hybrid-electric power.

• The switch to composites also means a switch from hard to soft tooling, making the manufacturing process much more flexible and durable at the same time (soft tooling can change as the car’s design changes with very little investment or change-over down time).

• Inside the car, there’s a switch from hardware (IP gages, etc.) to software (digital IP, etc.). This makes it significantly easier to customize the car to customer specs and to “upgrade” its features. Not to mention easier to integrate wireless communication—can anyone say remote diagnostics and “tune-ups?”


Hypercar Factoid 
The advanced composite used for the body is bullet resistant and it cannot be detected by radar, making Hypercar the ideal getaway car.

• Going hand-in-hand with the switch to software is a transition from mechanical parts to electronics (i.e. steer-by-wire). Not only does this lighten the load weight-wise, but fewer moving parts means fewer parts to break.


Surprisingly, this isn’t a “someday man will go to the moon” idea. Lovins and Crumm both estimate that Hypercars will be widely available in five years, and will be dominant in 10 years. They go on to speculate that the auto industry as it exists now, will be gone in 20 years. Not because of Hypercar, necessarily, but because the industry will buckle under the weight of being an enviro-political, slow-moving, business-as-usual auto industry.

That’s a bold prediction, to be sure, but “passionate missionaries” make bold statements—many times, they’re right.