A new kind of electric three-wheelers has been in the news lately, with new concepts appearing in different countries.
The Twike I was the pioneer in this field. Introduced in 1986 by a Swiss team, it was only pedal-powered. The Twike II added an electric motor, and the Twike III became the production-version in 1995. As of today, the firm, with production now based in Germany, claims to have sold over 900 units all over Europe, and a few of them even in the USA.
The Twike III is designed to carry two passengers side by side, and has two sets of pedals. Made of lightweight materials, like aluminum and plastic, the base model weighs only 240 kg (530 lb.). Lithium-ion batteries of different capacity are available (from 3.5 to 24.5 kWh), providing a range of 40 (25 miles) to over 500 km (310 miles). Consumption is given at 4 to 7 kWh/100 km, and top speed is 52 mph (85 km/h). The electric motor has a constant power of 3 kW, with a peak power of 7 kW.
It can operate in only electric power mode, or pedal-assist mode. A five-gear shifter allows for different pedaling ratios, with a mechanical chain to the rear axle. It is geared to provide best input at around 25 to 30 mph. Above that speed, it is best to use only electric power.
The base price for the Twike III is €22,529 ($25,320). Using the configurator on Twike’s web site and adding all high-end options and the largest batteries, we came to a total of €48,895 ($54,948)! These vehicles are not cheap.
The Veemo is another example of velomobile, and comes from a Canadian company named Velometro. It is an enclosed electric three-wheeler with pedals, but this one is only a one-seater. Top speed is 20 mph (32 km/h) and the range is 62 miles (100 km). The Veemo was developed to be part of a vehicle-sharing program in Vancouver, which should cost 30% less than a car-sharing program. Velometro’s ambition is to expand to other large cities that already have car-sharing networks. See video:
From Minneapolis comes another entry, the Rhat Racer. It is a prototype that is called “the fastest pedal ride in the world”. Its light weight (570 lb., or 259 kg) and a rear-wheel hub motor with a power of 20 kW allow for a top speed of 100 mph (160 km/h). A 9.2 kWh lithium-ion battery pack gives it a range of 50 miles (80 km) in electric-only mode. This two-seater should retail at $35,000 to $45,000, when and if it comes to market.
Last but not least, pedal-assist velomobiles have been tested by UPS for last-mile deliveries in several German cities. It is unclear at this time if these tests are successful, and if we will see large fleet orders for these vehicles.
In any case, velomobiles seem to enjoy a new-found popularity, at least in terms of concepts. High prices might be a problem, but mass production and cheaper batteries might make them more economical in the future.