St Petersburg International Economic Forum

Hyperloop wars? The pressure to reach 700 mph sparks fierce rivalry

Hyperloop One chair on competitors, Trump
Hyperloop One chair on competitors, Trump

The ultra-high-speed mass transit brainchild of Tesla boss Elon Musk has created a hotbed of competitive rivalry with major stakeholders swapping criticisms at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia.

Musk's Hyperloop idea aims to revolutionize transport and let people travel at just under the speed of sound. It works by transporting a number of passengers in capsules that would be propelled by magnets at a speed of 750 mph – and could take you from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.

Several start-ups are working on the concept of Hyperloop, including Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), and are at varying stages of development. The race to be the ultimate leader in the space has spurred a heated debate between the firms.

"We are actually engineering and building and using steel, not powerpoints. And we hit 100 miles per hour in one second and we'll hit 700 mph by the end of the year. Full scale, full pod, we'll be able to do cargo, people. So you'll use Uber within the cities for transportation and then between the cities you would use Hyperloop," Shervin Pishevar, chairman and co-founder at Hyperloop One, told CNBC on the outskirts of the Russian conference on Friday.

"Hyperloop One is the only one company that has the product. No-one else does, they just have talk ... we've raised the capital, we've built the company, 170 full-time employees. They (the competition) have just slides," he added.

The rising success of Hyperloop One
The rising success of Hyperloop One

His comments come after a panel discussion on Thursday with Dirk Ahlborn, the CEO of HTT, who was asked directly about the competition in the project. Ahlborn claimed that his major rival was a relative latecomer to project and even noted the conflict of both firms having similar names. Hyperloop One was previously known as Hyperloop Technologies.

We are way ahead of what they're doing: HTT CEO
We are way ahead of what they're doing: HTT CEO
When will hyperloop come to market?
When will hyperloop come to market?

In May, HTT unveiled the magnetic technology that will allow the pods to levitate and move. It also showed off how its construction will use vibranium, a material made of carbon fiber with sensors embedded in it. In January, it filed for construction permits of the first full-scale five-mile hyperloop track in Quay Valley, California. Meanwhile, Hyperloop One tested its electric engine in May in its first open-air demonstration.

Responding to Ahlborn's comments, Pishevar said "history will show what he (Ahlborn) is, just through the ability to actually deliver anything."

"So Hyperloop One is out there, you can see the tests ... the whole world watched that ... by the end of the year you'll see the full scale system that Elon envisioned working," he added. "We don't think about them (HTT), we're just moving forward. We're the actual company that is building anything," he said.

Ahlborn slammed Pisheva's remarks, telling CNBC that he believed the comments may be "part of tactic" by Hyperloop One to "position itself" in a certain manner.

Also attending the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in Russia, Ahlborn said that Hyperloop One was a different company that is going "the traditional way."

"Well I don't know how he (Pisheva) can know those things. I think in general competition is good. I mean, when we started out back in 2013 we realized that it needed to be a movement. And part of a movement is that there are also other companies that are trying to do the same thing," he said.

"We were the only ones for more than two years ... I can understand that our structure is very unique and people don't understand it because they're not very open minded," he later said. He added that he also had respect for the rival firms within the Hyperloop project.