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
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.
‘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.