Basalt: Valley’s little Detroit?
Improbable as it may sound, Basalt is now the home of an automotive corporation.
But there’s no sheet-metal work, no welding or foundry work going on. Hypercar, Inc., a green technology company, has spun off from the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute in Old Snowmass, and the company’s engineers and designers are in the process of producing a prototype automobile.
Hypercar is working with Lotus Engineering, the venerable British sports car company, to produce a full-sized model of an extremely fuel-efficient, low-emissions vehicle. The goal of the Hypercar group is to get the car into production as soon as possible, said Michael Brylawski, Hypercar’s vice president for commercialization.
The company, which recently moved into an office on Midland Avenue, has a staff of seven employees, five working in Basalt and two in England. The project has received major financing from BTZ, a Swiss investment fund that specializes in supporting green technologies. BTZ also has invested in EV Global Motors, a venture under Lee Iacocca, who achieved fame by bringing Chrysler Corp. back from the brink of bankruptcy.
The Hypercar design group is developing the car specifically for “young adults with active lifestyles,” Brylawski said. The company’s engineers and designers, mostly in their 20s, want to design a car for themselves and their peers.
“We said, `Why don’t we develop a car that we’d actually want to buy and drive?'” Brylawski said. He called the car a “local vehicle,” one that people in the Roaring Fork Valley would find useful.
“This is not a car out of Detroit or Tokyo,” Brylawski said. “This is a car out of Aspen.” Ideas for the car came from financially diverse focus groups – small groups of people from the targeted age range – who were asked what they like and dislike in a vehicle.
The car will embody the hypercar concept developed at RMI, realizing remarkable fuel economy and low emissions without sacrificing any of the reasons people buy and drive cars, such as safety and enjoyability.
Once in production, the cars 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.
John Ramo, Hypercar’s chief executive officer, said the company’s goal is to commercialize the hypercar technology. For now, however, they are focused on completing the prototype.
Brylawski said it hasn’t been determined whether the company will ultimately license the design to a manufacturing company or contract a firm to do the manufacturing. The most important thing is to get the car to market.
“We’re going to choose the route that gets it there fastest, without compromising the integrity of the design,” Brylawski said.
The company, having spun off from RMI, a nonprofit organization supported by contributions, is bound by some legal and ethical considerations, Ramo said. The group has had to comply with an important stipulation of federal law concerning nonprofits: Employees at the time the business spins off cannot become shareholders of the new corporation.
Ramo said they have no problem with the ethics of the situation, “as long as the for-profit continues the mission of the nonprofit, in terms of benefit to the environment.
“We’ve been handling it with the correct legal and ethical considerations,” Ramo said.
Brylawski agreed. “The reason we did this is to get the vehicles on the road as fast as possible,” he said. Hypercars have the potential to bring about a considerable reduction in the amount of carbon compounds spewed into the atmosphere daily.
Ford has been advertising decreased exhaust emissions, Brylawski said. But the company has been selling larger vehicles with greater fuel consumption.
“The only way you can have lower carbon emissions is by increasing fuel efficiency, or by using alternative fuels,” Brylawski said. But at this point, alternative fuels seriously compromise performance, he said.
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