Ah the three wheeler, trishaw, auto rickshaw, tuk tuk. Vehicle of many names and many curses. Personally, I hate three wheelers from the car but like them when I need one. I like them aesthetically but would never drive one. Three wheelers are, however, an innovative form of transportation and they may see some growth in the future. They are cheap, versatile, use minimal petrol and can be converted to environmentally friendly fuels quite easily. Pictured herein are some new designs for trishaws and comments on their development.
I shall start from the fantastic because it’s more interesting. Above is a BMW concept called the Clever (Compact Low Emissions Vehicle for Urban Transport). Come to think of it, that isn’t an accurate acronym at all. BMW says this thing does zero to 60k in around 7 seconds which is great because current trishaws do zero to 60, well, never. It has a top speed of 100k and safety features inside that go far beyond, well, cloth. To quote, “BMW says it emits just 60 grams of CO2 per 100 kilometers. Yes, that’s correct. The Toyota Prius, for the sake of comparison, emits 89 per kilometer.” This concept seems, however, stuck in an unsweet spot of being too dorky for the people that can afford it and too expensive for the people that would use it. At least in the subcontinent.
To go further afield, this aggressive beast is a two-wheels-in-front three wheeler of the type they’re developing in America. This effectively flips the Asian trishaw, which has one lame wheel in the front for steering and the engine and power in the back. This has the effect of looking actually cool (or space age, as per Tree Hugger) and being a bit more robust. The Canadian Silence PT2 is effectively a racer, though rather expensive at about $42,000 USD. The Volkswagen GX3 is another racer type which they said costs $17,000. Production, however, was dependent on consumer demand and I don’t think that happened.
These types, however, just got a boost because the US government approved Department Of Energy funding for them.
The real game, however, remains in Asia. This is where three wheelers are actually used, ubiquitous even. I’m not sure how much a three wheeler costs, but I think it’s less than $10,000 (Rs 1 million). Please let me know in the comments if you’re aware. [UPDATE: apparently it’s more like less than $5,000] Meter taxis are now becoming available in Sri Lanka and the rate is Rs. 50 for the first kilometer and Rs. 30 thereafter, I hear. There’s a hotline for these meter chaps (0712500800) and even a decent website. Technology wise the Asian trishaw is usually a Bajaj or TVS. It is either a more polluting two-stroke engine (now banned in SL) or a more efficient four stroke, but it still runs on petrol. I think they also mix oil and petrol in there, I can’t find stuff online, please explain if you know. [UPDATE: only the two stroke mixes] There is an interesting discussion here involving the Executive Director of Bajaj India.
Though current trishaws use less petrol than cars, they still pollute, both in terms of carbon and noise. There are, however, clean alternatives and high fuel prices give them some market impetus. One currently active alternative is Clean Natural Gas. CNG trishaws currently operate in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and to a lesser extent Sri Lanka. These aren’t no emissions, but they are lower.
Mahindra has also introduced the first hydrogen powered three wheeler, called the Hy-Alfa. This is cool because hydrogen is basically zero-emissions, but not exactly workable cause hydrogen production and distribution isn’t really worked out yet. CNG is much more popular by comparison. Hydrogen, however, could reach a critical mass, but that would need some upfront investment (which could possibly come to naught).
One avenue which I think is more promising (and neglected) is solar powered trishaws. In the Asian context where there’s A) constant sun and B) low speed requirements it seems like an ideal power source. You basically just need to stick solar panels on top and connect it to a battery. However, I haven’t seen that much development on this far beyond a hobbyist level. There are working prototypes, but it seems like no major investment to make them saleable. Of all the possible trishaws I think this is the coolest and the one most worth developing.