Anyone who has been in Bangkok, Delhi or Cairo will be familiar with the lawnmower whirr of the mighty tuk-tuk. Nimble enough to weave through traffic jams and narrow streets, the three-wheeled auto rickshaw is one of the most convenient ways of getting around congested cities in the developing world. For residents, they tend to be cheaper than taxis. For tourists, they offer the novelty of an open-air view.
Unfortunately, they are also noisy and highly polluting, black smoke spewing from the exhaust. A handful of companies believe they have a solution: an electric, zero-emission version of the three-wheeled vehicle. And they hope the clean (and quiet) technology can help popularise the tuk-tuk on the more ordered roads of the western world.
Tuk Tuk Factory is a Dutch company manufacturing a range of “e-tuks” in Thailand. All powered by battery, the basic three-seater can go for more than 60 miles after a five-hour boost with the on-board charger.
“My team and I all loved tuk-tuks but we wanted to make sure they were environmentally sustainable as well as fun,” explains company director Roland Vos.
The company has sold 800 e-tuks across 30 countries since 2011, mostly countries with no history of using the diesel and gasoline-guzzling tuk-tuks. The biggest market so far has been Portugal, where they have sold 90 of their electric tuk tuks. Although the novelty factor has played a role in raising interest, Vos believes the market in is ready to take off beyond rides in tourist resorts and quiet historical districts.
“We have a lot of resorts and hotels excited about them, and the market among food truck vendors is really big,” he explains. “But the use of tuk-tuks as a daily taxi service is also getting bigger.”
Michael Fox is sales director at the e-Tuk USA, a Denver-based company licensing the design of the Tuk Tuk Factory’s vehicles and manufacturing them in the US.
Fox has sold just under 40 of them in the first 12 months in the US and is excited by the idea of tuk-tuks filling the so-called “last mile” gap, the distance between a station and a traveller’s final destination. As well as ferrying people short distances in downtown areas, he thinks they could work well alongside America’s growing public transport system.
“There’s a lot of competition out there – Uber, taxis and limo services,” Fox says. “But an Uber or taxi driver doesn’t want to drive someone four or five blocks, they want to go four or five miles. We want to go those short distances, picking people up from a train station and dropping them at the stadium, or taking them from the ball game to the bar afterwards.”
Fox says at a typical rate of $2 per person (£1.50), the e-tuk offers a quick, cheap and eco-friendly way of making those journeys.
Businesses hope to persuade transport authorities that e-tuk-tuks could also help ease congestion on the roads. “Smaller vehicles carrying a few passengers at a time – it’s a very efficient way to get people around,” says South African e-tuk entrepreneur Neil du Preez.
Yet regulation remains a big barrier, as does the competition. Even if you convince the relevant high-level authority to permit tuk-tuks on the road, as e-Tuk USA has with the US Department of Transportation, three-wheeler drivers are likely to come up against taxi unions defending their precious territory.
“Every change comes with friction,” says Vos. “The existing taxi world has not been known for its flexibility. At the moment this is complementary to the taxi market because last mile and touristic transport aren’t always what the taxis are doing. But as the market evolves, I think tuk-tuks can take a slice of the taxi market in many places.”
In South Africa, Mellowcabs is ready to roll out 50 of its new three-wheeled electric mini cabs in Cape Town and Johannesburg over the next few months. Du Preez, who is the company’s chief executive, says typical journeys will cost around 30 rand (£1.50), making them around 15% to 25% cheaper than taxis. “We want them to be used as a real taxi, not as a gimmick,” says du Preez.
Mellowcabs has struck an agreement with Uber to have its own three-wheeler drivers feature on the ride-sharing app within South Africa. Yet du Preez has had to tread carefully to avoid conflict with the country’s powerful minibus industry.
“We’ve engaged with the operators to make sure we’re complementing what they’re doing and not interfering with their routes into residential areas,” he explains. “But the meter taxi cab industry isn’t too big in South Africa – we’re okay with seeing them as the competition.”
Meanwhile, Japanese company Terra Motors is enjoying some success selling its three-wheeler electric rickshaws in Asian countries where fossil fuel-burning auto rickshaws still dominate. Terra has sold more than 5,000 of them in the Philippines and another 5,000 in India.
“The authorities in India have big concerns about the environment,” explains Teppei Seki, one of Terra’s directors. “Legality is no longer such an issue. Prime minister (Narendra) Modi has promoted electric rickshaws in many cities.”
Electric tuk-tuk businesses may find their most important audience is in replacing old vehicles in India and south east Asia. Yet the fundamental strength of the tuk-tuk, its nimble flexibility, means it may also have a role to play on the roads of cities all over the world.
Article was originally posted by The Guardian on June 3, 2016.
View the original article here.
About eTuk USA, LLC
Headquartered in Denver, CO eTuk USA manufactures 100% electric, eco-friendly tuk tuks to suit a variety of customer needs throughout the USA. The company’s electric vehicles are well suited for a variety of applications. eTuk USA licenses the design from their partner, The Tuk Tuk Factory, and is the exclusive manufacturer and distributor of the eTuk in the United States. Check out the company’s passenger eTuks for shuttle and tour operator applications or its commercial eTuks for vending, delivery, or food truck applications.
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