Arm of RMI set to extend into U.S. auto industry |

Arm of RMI set to extend into U.S. auto industry

Jeremy Heiman

The Rocky Mountain Institute’s Hypercar Center has announced that it is spinning off a for-profit business venture.

The start-up company, Hypercar, Inc., will not go directly into manufacturing. Instead it will provide to auto manufacturers design and engineering services and business consulting on how to apply new technology in the production of revolutionary motor vehicles.

“The mission of Hypercar, Inc., is to accelerate the arrival of hypercars to the market,” said Michael Brylawski, a design team member. “Because we’re going to be working with the industry, we’re going to be working on a variety of development projects to get these cars to market.”

The Hypercar Center has brought in John Ramo, a successful high-tech entrepreneur, as CEO. The company is seeking ground-floor investors at this point, said David Cramer, another member of the Hypercar design team.

The Hypercar is a concept developed in 1991 by Amory Lovins, co-founder of RMI, and some colleagues. Lovins looked at the automobiles being produced and realized vehicles hadn’t seen any real design changes since Henry Ford’s day. In 1994, a team of six engineers and visionaries was brought in to begin to make the concept real.

Brylawski said the team quickly got international recognition for the break-through design work they produced. In concept, at least, the car realized remarkable fuel economy and low emissions without sacrificing any of the reasons people buy and drive cars, such as safety and enjoyability.

The cars themselves will be built of advanced materials such as carbon fiber and polymers. They will be powered by hybrid systems involving either a gasoline engine or a fuel cell consuming hydrogen and generating electricity for an electric motor that would propel the car.

In theory, Hypercars will use one-third to one-sixth as much fuel as conventional vehicles, with comparable performance.

Ramo said the new business is patterned after such high-tech businesses as Netscape, which gives away its Internet browser software, enabling it to sell network consulting and additional software to more customers. In that way, the Hypercar Center, the nonprofit arm at RMI, gave away their hypercar concept but will sell, through the new business, consulting and engineering.

After developing the idea in 1991, Brylawski said, Lovins was faced with the problem of turning the concept over to an auto manufacturer and risking seeing it shelved. So Lovins decided to make the information public. Things have progressed since then.

“We’re outgrowing the confines of a nonprofit organization,” Brylawski said.

“We’re going from being a catalyst to being a player,” Ramo said. And it’s a chance to influence the industry toward RMI’s point of view.

“It’s an opportunity to reinvent the auto industry as a green and socially responsible player,” said David Cramer, another design team member.

The work the Hypercar group has done has brought them a great deal of recognition already. Brylawski, still in his 20s, addressed the National Tire Industry Conference last year.

“We have access,” said Cramer. “Upper management in auto companies want to hear what we have to say.” A major automaker used the “Hypercar” name in a Super Bowl commercial this year.

One difficult challenge the design group feels it has met is the higher cost of composite body materials. Although steel costs less, composite construction costs can be moderated by production economies, said Brylawski. Because composites can be colored in the material, painting is eliminated. This not only reduces material and labor costs but reduces waste, air pollution and the amount of manufacturing space required.

Costs can be saved in tooling and stamping, too. Steel auto bodies have as many as 300 separate parts. Composite bodies are created by injection molding, allowing more integration of parts.

Jonathan Fox-Rubin, a valley native and a team member, said the hypercar concept is applicable to any type of vehicle on the road now, not just small cars. Vans and sport-utility vehicles can be built using the hypercar concepts, as can buses.

“People can have their cake and drive it, too,” Fox-Rubin said.

RMI is a 17-year-old resource policy center located in Old Snowmass. It conducts research in energy, transportation, profitable climate protection, global security and other fields.

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