Hyperion XP-1, a Hydrogen Car Following the Tesla Strategy
Can Hyperion convince the market that there is a future for Hydrogen, by making a Hypercar?
Elon Musk, at the helm of Tesla came up with a simple but brilliant strategy to make electric cars mainstream. You may already know that strategy, but do you know the representative of the opposite strategy?
I know very well, because I am Norwegian and for a period Norwegians where really excited about Norway becoming a real automotive manufacturer just like our big brother Sweden.
While Elon Musk was making his first Tesla model, the Roadster, on the other side of the Atlantic, Norwegian carmaker Think Global was making the Th!nk City car model, which looks like what you see below.
It had moderate success in Norway but ultimately failed and few remember it anymore now. But in its heyday I remember thinking the Tesla Roadster was the dumbest idea ever. It was a car for people we in Norway call finance acrobats (people making fast money on the stock exchange living flashy lives). Only a couple of rich guys in Norway bought it, while the Think could be seen zipping around in many parts of Oslo.
Of course at the time I never actually stopped and thought hard about the strategy of either company. Tesla just seemed to be making a toy, and there did not seem to be a deeper thought behind it.
What is The Tesla Strategy?
Now of course I know better. Elon Musk tried to solve multiple problems facing electric cars:
- Perception. They where viewed kind of like Golf Carts and not as real cars. Cute little under-powered toy cars. Nothing fro real car enthusiasts. They only had appeal to affluent and highly idealistic environment conscious middle class families.
- High cost of production due to low volume and immature technology. Small electric cars back in 2011 despite their modest size and appearance where quite expensive. Think was no different.
This made Think a really tough sell. It was an uncool, impractical and low performance with a high price tag. That is like playing car salesman on deity mode.
How do you sell something which isn’t premium at a premium price? The only thing Think really had going was that it could appeal to people’s environmental consciousness.
Buyers where told they had to sacrifice everything else, to be good to the environment. That was a tough sale. Only in relatively affluent and idealistic Norway could that work out.
Elon Musk understood that if you are going to sell a car at a premium price, it has to have premium features. What the Tesla Roadster could offer was a cool looking car with insane acceleration, which was a green car at the same time.
That was a great combo. Rich guys who wanted to blow a ton of cash on a fun car, could excuse their purchase with “honey, I am just being environmentally friendly!”
And not to mention the halo effect. With this simple stroke of genius Tesla managed to establish the image of electric cars as really high performance sporty cars for the future. As Tesla began moving downstream the Tesla image was firmly established. It was crucial because, people had to look past the fact that Tesla was not able to offer the same luxurious interiors as the competition, or quality service.
As a friend and a Tesla owners told me: “A Tesla may not be as smooth and luxurious as Mercedes Benz, but who cares when you feel like you are maneuvering a space craft?”
This helped Tesla get through a lot of the bumps facing a new car company making mistakes on the way and having quality problems.
Toyota Mirai, the Think of Hydrogen Cars?
Hyperion has learned from Tesla, in a way many car makers have not. One of the car companies that failed to learn from the failure of Think is Toyota.
Toyota created the Mirai hydrogen car. In 2016 it was sold at $57,500. That is a steep price for a car that look like this:
It looks like an unassuming sensible family car. The kind of people in a market for such a car is unlikely to want to fork out almost $60 000 for a car. Especially considering infrastructure for hydrogen cars is significantly worse than for either gasoline or electric cars.
Most developed countries today have quite a lot of charging stations around. And if you cannot find a charging station you could always charge on a regular electric socket and home or somewhere else. In contrast you don’t just electrolyze some water at home to make hydrogen for your car.
In other words anyone getting a Hydrogen car has to be given some kind of carrot to compensate for all the downsides, and Toyota Mirai isn’t really giving it. If you want to be green a BEV is cheaper and more environmentally friend at the moment since most Hydrogen is currently produced through steam reforming of natural gas.
CH₄ + H₂O ⇌ CO + 3 H₂
Sure in the future hydrogen will be made from electricity from wind and solar plants driving electrolyzers. But we are not quite there yet.
Rethinking Hydrogen Cars
I don’t think the Toyota strategy is a viable one. It just does not add up. Perhaps they aim for the Microsoft strategy of releasing a string of operating systems that impresses nobody until the gradual improvements eventually begins to win people over.
There are many ways to go about this problem. I characterized Mirai, as the Think of Hydrogen cars, but in many ways the Rasa, made by independent automaker Riversimple based in Wales, UK may fit the bill better.
Riversimple’s Innovative Rasa Hydrogen Car
The Rasa is a clever rethinking of the whole Hydrogen car concept. In nature it is a bit like Think. A small independent company in the outskirts of the mainstream located in Wales.
I don’t want to go too much into details about this car as TopGear has a pretty good article on it.
They came up with a way of solving the problem that Hydrogen fuel cells are really expensive. They solved it by having a really small fuel cell which only produce 8.5kW of power.
And before I go on I realize I need to clarify what a fuel cell is. If you are tech geek, you don’t even think about it, but when discussing this with my wife, I realized not everybody knows how a Hydrogen car works. Many assume it has pistons and cylinders just like a Gasoline car. It could have. In fact BMW worked on such a car years ago.
However today, when somebody talks about a Hydrogen car, they actually mean a car with an electric drive-train. Not something with an internal combustion engine. A hydrogen car is very similar to an electric car. The battery has simply been replaced with what we call a fuel cell.
In a hydrogen fuel cell, hydrogen and oxygen is combined in a manner which produces electricity without any combustion taking place. There are no explosions driving pistons inside cylinders.
So in principle you could take a Tesla Model S, throw out the battery and install a fuel cell and a hydrogen storage tank and you got a Hydrogen car. You can use the same electric motor already present in the Tesla.
Anyway back to the Rasa. So the Rasa fuel cell only emits a measly 8.5 kW. However this is enough to maintain speed. But it is not enough to rapidly accelerate. Riversimple’s clever trick is to uses supercapacitors (also known as ultracapacitors) to temporarily store electric power.
These are a bit like small batteries but with very different pros and cons. Unlike batteries they can only store small amounts of electric current. However they are much better than batteries at rapid charging and discharging.
When quickly accelerating up to cruising speed, you don’t need a lot of total power. A super capacitor can store enough power to do that. So this is what the Rasa does. Excess power from the fuel cell as well as power from when you are breaking fills up the super capacitors.
This is actually far more efficient than regenerative breaking in say a Tesla, because a regular battery is not able consume all the power generated from breaking. Remember a battery is limited in how fast it can recharge.
Hyperion Steps up the Game with the XP-1 Hydrogen Car
So ever since I read about the Rasa hydrogen car I thought it packed a lot of innovative and good ideas. I haven’t even touched upon all of them here. However the way I see it, the Rasa will run into many of the same problems as the Think. It may be more innovative and clever than the Think, but is it enough?
The Hyperion XP-1 takes a leaf from Tesla and steps up the game. It also utilizes supercapacitors just like the Rasa. The Roadster was something similar to a Lotus or Porsche. A fancy sports car but ultimately affordable to a lot of well to do people.
The Hyperion XP-1 in contrast seems to be aiming for an entirely different market segment currently occupied by cars such as a Ferrari, Bugatti Chiron and Bentley. I am not a car guy but based on watching various car reviews online, the XP-1 in philosophy reminds me a lot of the Bugatti Chiron.
Bugatti Chiron is a kind of timeless high performance extreme luxury car made for people I imagine mostly live in places like Dubai, Qatar or Hong Kong. They are limited edition. Only a few hundred examples are made of each model. In essence they become collectors items for the super rich, that absolutely must have the ultimate status symbol in cars. The rich crave exclusivity. They want something nobody else can have. Limited production and extreme performance characteristics and timeless design gives them that.
This is a step beyond what Tesla did when it came out with its first model. This isn’t just a sports car but a hypercar. Hypercars like Bugatti Chiron can go up to 1500 hp, and top speed is believed to lie close to 290 mph. Acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds.
The XP-1 in contrast claims 1,000 hp, acceleration 0–60mph in 2.2 seconds, and top speed of 221-mph.
So while not as fast as the Bugatti Chiron it actually beats it on acceleration. But here is another interesting comparison. EVs are not known to have a good range. But Hypercars like the Bugatti Chiron don’t have very fuel efficient engines, so a Chiron can actually only take you about 260–300 miles on full tank. That is less than the long range Tesla Model 3, which does 322 miles. Only comparable to the performance version which does 300 miles. And it is beaten by good margin by the Tesla Model S which can do 370 miles on a full charge.
Here the Hyperion XP-1 really shines as it is a Hypercar which can do a whole 1,000 miles on a full tank. That is more than 3x the range of a Bugatti Chiron, and certainly a lot further than any Tesla.
So specification wise this car beats Tesla on most accounts. It can be mentioned that the top speed of Tesla Model S performance version in 155 mph. Of course this is not an entirely fair comparison as Tesla Model S is a family sedan with a lot more space and lower price.
How Does it Compare to Tesla Roaster 2021
Of course the XP-1 is still not on sale just like the new Tesla Roaster which is in a more similar segment. While XP-1 can hold its own against what exists currently in the market. It may struggle against the upcoming Tesla Roadster with the following specs:
- 0–60 mph in 1.9 seconds, beating the 2.2 promised for XP-1.
- 250-mph top speed, again beating the XP-1’s 221-mph.
- 620 miles range. This is the only category the XP-1 wins with its 1000 miles range.
Of course these kinds of cars are not bought purely for performance characteristics. Bugatti Chiron isn’t the highest performing gasoline hypercar, but it combines high performance with luxury and design which appeals to the ultra-rich.
While I think the upcoming Roadster has a clean beautiful design, it may not appeal to the flamboyant rich elite in places like Dubai.
The XP-1 is also slated to arrive a bit later in 2022, and like other hypercars only 300 examples will be produced.
So What is the Point?
You may ask what the point is of making so few cars. But the strategy is much like with the Tesla Roadster. It is a form of advertisement for what you can achieve with Hydrogen cars.
In fact Hyperion doesn’t even look at itself as a car company:
“There are enough car companies,” Kafantaris says. “We’re an energy company that’s building this car to tell a story.”
To build a hydrogen economy, you need demand for hydrogen, and the hope is that XP-1 will create a desire for Hydrogen cars and drive a transition to a hydrogen economy.
Batteries vs Fuel Cells, Who will Win?
While I am a big fan of battery electric vehicles due to the ease of charging almost anywhere, I have in the past argued while I think we should not discount Hydrogen cars.
People like an answer to which technology will win, but the world does not necessarily progress that way. We may very well end up with two winners.
It is still my belief that battery electric cars are superior to your average driver in the city. However especially in North America where many people have very long commutes and love to drive long distances to visit relative or go on vacation, a Hydrogen car may appeal more to them.
While technology and infrastructure currently favors batteries we cannot discount that things will change in the future. The economics of batteries and fuel cells is quite different.
Fuel cells are quite expensive, but expanding tank capacity is a lot cheaper than for batteries. Charging a car battery is a lot more energy efficient than doing electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen.
However efficiency may matter less in a future with abundant renewable energy. Producing renewable energy is relatively cheap in much of the world today. Often wind and solar power will beat coal on price. So why isn’t it taking over everywhere? Because storage costs are high. Storing electricity in batteries is expensive.
Once we have plenty of generating capacity for renewable energy, efficient will begin to matter less than cost of storage. In this case Hydrogen may win out, as it is cheaper to store.
There is also talk of generating hydrogen locally. I don’t know how safe or practical this is, but one can imagine people with solar cells on their roof, using excess power to generate hydrogen which is then stored in tanks, which can be used to later power fuel cells powering the home at night or allow for refueling of the car.
Anyway, let me know what you think. What kind of car would you prefer and why?