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Top Gear Philippines

The Philippines' lowly tricycle: Is it due for a makeover?

What do the Tesla Model S and the blue tricycle above have in common? Don't shake your head just yet, and tell us we're comparing apples and durian.

The e-tricycle in the photo--a prototype brought in from Japan by BEET Philippine Incorporated--may look very similar to the ones cruising the streets of Bonifacio Global City and Mandaluyong, but when you look beneath the sheet metal, therein lies the answer to our question. Sure, they all have three wheels, and they fall under the Land Transportation Office's special utility vehicles under the motorcycle category, but certain things aren't visible upon first glance.

BGC's and Mandaluyong's e-trikes both run on a DC motor, with the former having a lead acid battery and the latter having a lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. BEET's e-tricycle, on the other hand, does not run on a DC motor. The e-tricycle you see above runs on an AC motor with a Li-ion battery. And that is the common denominator it shares with other modern EV cars, including the Tesla Model S.

Sharing Asian Development Bank's vision of sustainable transportation, BEET Philippine came into the country in March this year with its own e-tricycle prototype. "BEET's vision is to support the local people, protect the environment, develop a new industry, and generate new jobs in developing countries by creating EVs grounded in the market conditions in each particular country," said the Japanese EV start-up's CEO and president, Tokushi Nakashima, in a statement. The company filed a bid for the bank's mass-transportation project, which aims to introduce an e-tricycle that would replace the typical, gasoline-fed one being used nationwide.

Now that it's clear that Manny Pangilinan's premium EV and BEET's e-tricycle have something in common, it's time to compare them like they're apple and durian. After all, they're registered under different categories at the LTO. The Meralco chairman's EV requires 12 to 15 hours of charging to cover a 300km distance, while the e-tricycle can only travel 50km after one full charge.

When we begin talking about charging the e-tricycle's Li-ion battery (the same battery that powers most laptops and mobile devices), it veers from the Tesla Model S and now becomes comparable to a smartphone: BEET's e-tricycle takes just two hours to fully charge its battery. Furthermore, the e-tricycle has a vehicle control unit (VCU) that manages the vehicle's other components, including the Li-ion battery, the AC motor, the inverter and the battery management system. The VCU is pretty much like the processor in your smartphone. The VCU technology is owned by BEET and may be integrated with a telecommunication system. Having this integration capability further expands the possible features that could be embedded into the vehicle.

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Enter BEET's partnership: The company has inked an agreement with Japan's largest telco company, Softbank Group. The partners are now developing a billing system for e-tricycles via telecommunications. Will we be seeing Wi-Fi-equipped e-tricycles in the future? With telecommunications integration, will our manong e-tricycle drivers have added security knowing that the e-trike units can be tracked via GPS? Indeed, having smart technology such as the VCU takes the humble tricycle up a few notches.

Following ADB's prerequisites, the Japan-based company's e-tricycle has a maximum speed of 50kph. That's no supercar speed, but it will get the job done.

TopGear.com.ph got the chance to experience riding BEET's e-tricycle on a parking lot's incline and downward slope, as well as on a Makati CBD road. The seven-seater e-tricycle vroomed silently as it carried four grown men--including Ryan Bonilla of BEET's sales and marketing department--and three women. It carefully descended a basement parking lot, and made left and right turns with ease (it has a 3.3m turning radius).

To demonstrate the one feature that sets the vehicle apart from its DC motor-powered e-tricycles, Bonilla instructed the driver to hit the brakes as we ascended. The EV stayed put in the middle of the incline, and once cued to climb up again, the e-tricycle resumed its ascent as if it was just tackling a flat road. The motor didn't need restarting; there was no gurgling, no struggling sound, no warning beep from the vehicle. Most important, we did not slide back nor did we have to get off to push the 480kg e-tricycle.

BEET's e-tricycle protoype is a promising means of public transportation for short distances, but the company is further testing it for improvements, such as its ability to wade through flood. The Japanese executives noted that the battery can now go through water, but they haven't tried submerging the battery for a day.

The company is also waiting for the status of its bid for ADB's program before finalizing rollout and pricing announcements as well as investment plans in the Philippines. And just how serious is the Japanese start-up? Once given the go-signal, BEET plans to bring assembly of the e-tricycle to the Philippines. "We are keen to make it happen," BEET executive adviser Shozo Kurihara said firmly.

Let's cross our fingers.

Photos by Tracy Carpena

 

BEET e-tricycle prototype

The Philippines' lowly tricycle: Is it due for a makeover?

The Philippines' lowly tricycle: Is it due for a makeover?

Tracy Carpena
Online Managing Editor
Tracy belongs to a family who loves wheels. Take it literally. The clan digs cars, bicycles and yes, even strollers.
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