Former British racecar driver Hugo Spowers unveils the 2-seat fuel cell-powered Riversimple Urban Car in London, which will see 10 prototypes built by the end of 2010 and 50 more by the end of 2011.

Beginning in 2013, the vehicle will be available for a jaw-dropping 20-year lease at a cost of £200 ($315) per month, which includes fuel, Spowers says.

The major investor in the Riversimple car is Sebastian Piech, great-grandson of Porsche AG founder Ferdinand Porsche and nephew of Volkswagen AG supervisory board chairman Ferdinand Piech.

Nine years in development, the Riversimple car weighs a mere 772 lbs. (350 kg), and developers claim it achieves a fuel economy of 300 mpg (0.78 L/100 km), emitting just 30 g/km of carbon dioxide.

“We believe we are closer to market with a commercially viable fuel-cell car than anyone else,” Spowers says.

The FCV's simple design, which eschews gearbox, drive shaft and heavy power-assist braking and steering, enables it to run on the minuscule 6 kW fuel-cell stack. In comparison, larger FCVs from major auto makers typically have at least 100 kW fuel cells.

Spowers forecasts production of 5,000-10,000 units of the FCV annually. He also promises the company will provide free, “open-source plans” on the Internet for downloading in order for entrepreneurs to develop their own variations of the vehicle.

Other manufacturers also will be able to source parts locally, with the only stipulation being any improvements must be shared, so the entire network of builders can benefit.

The top speed of the FCV is estimated at 50 mph (80 km/h). Besides power from the fuel cell, the vehicle’s four motors (one in each wheel hub) obtain power from ultracapacitors for acceleration.

Riversimple collaborated with Oxford and Cranfield universities on the FCV, which is assembled by Alan Docking Racing in Silverstone, England. Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies Pte Ltd. of Singapore makes the fuel cells.

Riversimple appears confident the simplicity of the FCV’s engineering and the reliance on durable carbon-fiber materials can withstand long-term use.

The company has partnered with fuel supplier BOC Group Plc to set up hydrogen refueling stations.