Trike cars are trick­ling back to small fac­tory show­rooms.

Pay­ing the price of a new bakkie for a seat on three wheels seems mad, but 200 peo­ple did so

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - ALWYN VILJOEN

EIGHT in 10 cars trans­port only the driver and that per­son’s daily com­mute typ­i­cally mea­sures a lot less than 60 km a day.

Lug­ging around four or more empty seats plus all the metal that sur­rounds them for a few kilo­me­tres does not tick engi­neer’s two favourite words — ef­fi­ciency and ef­fec­tive­ness — which may be why the world is see­ing a steady trickle of new trike de­signs.

They range from the can­vas-cov­ered leg-pow­ered trike-bikes in Nor­way, to Toyota’s new i-Road cur­rently on test in Ja­pan, and a BSC three-wheel scooter from China that is on sale in Cape Town.

Among the most re­mark­able are the Spi­ra4u mi­cro­cars that are made with a polypropy­lin foam ma­te­rial wrapped with hon­ey­comb fi­bre­glass, both of which are lighter than wa­ter, so that the Spi­ra4U floats bet­ter than many boats, and can eas­ily be tilted on its wide rear to be parked up­right. And, of course, Mor­gan never stopped build­ing trikes, while a 1957 Messer­schmitt KR200 “cabin scooter” re­cently went on sale for a cool R500 000 in South Africa.

But will the slew of tiny trikes ever re­gain the brief flash of fash­ion­abil­ity they en­joyed in the mad-cap days af­ter World War 2?

Cana­dian com­pany Elec­tra Mec­ca­nica Ve­hi­cles Cor­po­ra­tion cer­tainly hopes so, as does Paul Elio, whose punts for his pa­tri­otic Elio trike are in­creas­ingly start­ing to sound like the sales pitches from a snake-oil sales­man.

Elec­tra un­veiled its 2017 Solo elec­tric ve­hi­cle at the Lux­ury and Su­per­car Week­end event last week.

Elec­tra Mec­ca­nica spokesper­son Jeff Hol­land said the Solo EV could go on sale as early as Novem­ber, pend­ing ap­proval by U.S. and Cana­dian reg­u­la­tors. The Solo re­tails at $19 888 in Canada, which is over R210 000.

De­spite this be­ing the price of the new Fo­ton Tun­land 2,8 bakkie or a new Re­nault Clio 0,9T Blaze, 200 peo­ple have al­ready put down a re­fund­able de­posit of $250 (Cana­dian), which is al­most R2 700, to get the Solo.

Hol­land de­fends the high price for the 450 kg trike by list­ing the Solo’s achieve­ments, which in­clude a 160 km range, thanks to a 16,1 kWh lithium ion bat­tery, and a taut sus­pen­sion tuned for en­thu­si­as­tic cor­ner­ing. This com­pares to what is ar­guably the fastest trike out there to­day, the Va­lene Black Mamba, which uses a hub mo­tor in the fat rear wheel to make 80 kW at the en­try level and an in­sane 600 kW in the flag­ship. But the Mamba does sell for R529 958 in the U.S.

In Tokyo, Toyota has launched the sec­ond round of an Open Road Project to test the i-Road trike.

Through th­ese con­sumer tri­als, Toyota aims to study the best ways to de­velop prod­ucts and ser­vices that will build on the key strengths of the i-Road, and open up ex­cit­ing new pos­si­bil­i­ties for the fu­ture of mo­bil­ity.

This sec­ond round will last un­til March next year, and gen­eral com­muters will get a chance to ride in this ul­tra com­pact Toyota to as­sess the elec­tric trike’s ac­cept­abil­ity in the mar­ket, in­clud­ing how it will be used in shared-use en­vi­ron­ments, and its us­age pur­poses.

If the Ja­panese com­muters’ de­mand to be in­cluded in the sec­ond round of i-Road tests is any­thing to go by, there is a size­able niche mar­ket await­ing trike builders. Ninety-six test pi­lots were cho­sen from among some 3 500 ap­pli­cants.

The first round of tests de­liv­ered re­sponses like: “The i-Road is re­ally con­ve­nient be­cause I can park it in very small spa­ces” and “My range of travel has ex­panded be­cause the i-Road helps me go any­where eas­ily”, among oth­ers.

PHO­TOS: SOLO, WIKIPEDIA, TOYOTA

‘Pretty’ is not the first word that comes to mind for a trike car, but more of th­ese trun­cated lit­tle ve­hi­cles are be­ing sold based on the ef­fi­cient, ef­fec­tive and fun ride they of­fer.

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