We are busy exploring possible next steps in our mission to see Twizy-like, lightweight, low energy vehicles designed for rural, rather than city, environments.
Having won the Green Transport prize in 2013, our first step was to modify one of our Twizy fleet (‘Toro’) to give it bigger wheels and more flexible suspension (for rough rural roads) and some luggage carrying capability. We then ran a trial last summer (2014) on the Isle of Eigg followed by a follow-on trial on the remote peninsula of Knoydart. Both trials were successful and gave us a lot of useful feedback and Toro has now returned to live on Eigg where he is used to get around by island resident Eiggbox Lucy who also hires him to visiting artists and holidaymakers.
The next step of the project is to explore the technical and economic feasibility of local, small-scale manufacture of a class of affordable, ultra low energy, electric quadricyles suitable for short, everyday journeys in rural areas.We are talking to possible partners about how to best achieve this.
People living in rural areas often live several miles from the nearest shops, work, and schools.
They have little or no access to public transport and often require more than 1 car per household.
The majority of their daily journeys are less than 5 miles.
Diesel and petrol are more expensive in rural areas but rural areas have greater access to locally generated renewable energy than urban areas.
Short range electric vehicles need to be serviced within their range! This is a major barrier to uptake in rural areas. For example, in the case of our Twizy fleet, some can only be serviced 40-50 miles away and one only 100 miles away!
There are very few commercially available options in this category and none which are focussed on rural needs.
The best option is the Renault Twizy. We have been operating a fleet of 11 Twizys in rural Wales for 3 years. They are used by local residents and small businesses and hired out to visiting tourists to help cover their running costs.
The Twizys work brilliantly in the hills and narrow country lanes but their city-centric design means they suffer from 3 major shortcomings for rural use:-
1. Tandem seating where the rear seat is awkward to access and uncomfortable to ride in.
2. No luggage carrying capacity.
3. Little ground clearance and very stiff suspension rendering them uncomfortable and occasionally unusable on bumpy rural roads and rough tracks leading to people’s properties.
We have run trials of converted electric buggies but found these to be more costly than the Twizy, less reliable and too exposed to the elements.
We have modified a Twizy to give it higher and more flexible suspension and a luggage rack. This has been trialled on both the Isle of Eigg and the remote Knoydart peninsula where it has proved both useful and popular although still lacking sufficient luggage carrying capacity and robust enough suspension for constant travelling on bumpy roads and rough tracks.
Because we can’t find anyone else addressing this need and opportunity! We wish we could.
Electric vehicle manufacturers are focussed on reproducing the performance characteristics of traditional cars, i.e. long range, high speed and air conditioned comfort. This means that many of the high end electric vehicles are no longer low carbon and nor is it clear how the electricity demands of these high performance vehicles will be met if their numbers grow. It is ironic that many of these vehicles are used mostly to make short local journeys and often in urban areas where public transport alternatives are available. Similar to conventional cars, 95% of the energy is required to move the vehicle regardless of the people in it!
(A particular sore point is that all electric vehicles apart from quadricycles are eligible for the £5k Olev grant.)
The mainstream manufacturers will always be focussed on the urban market as that’s where the numbers are.
We are keen to draw wider attention to the short distance, transport needs of the rural population who don’t have public transport alternatives but could have the possibility of cheaper, low energy rural travel powered by local renewable sources.
Our dream is of small rural-based businesses able to manufacture short runs of low energy, affordable, robust quadricycles for the rural market which share a common chassis and electric drive but can be customised by local body builders to suit different local needs and tastes and prices.
We’d like to have one last shot at seeing this dream realised before we get too old or give up and do something else!