Here in rural Wales, a number of us have been driving Renault Twizys (L7e quadricycles) since 2012. We love driving them and use them all the time to get the 2 or 3 miles up and down hills to our nearest shops or work. We also have two Twizys in W.Scotland and one in Cornwall. Our Eco Travel Network member businesses also hire theirs out to visitors to explore the Brecon Beacons National Park.
As we have discussed before, Twizys were designed as urban vehicles and suffer a few significant shortcomings for practical rural life. The main redesigns we would like are: side by side seating (more comfortable, more sociable and a more pleasant passenger experience), more luggage space (which side by side seating incidentally enables) and more rugged, flexible suspension for our rougher roads and tracks. We also struggle with the fact that our nearest qualified EV service centres can be beyond the range of the vehicle! – 50 miles in a couple of cases and 100 miles in the worst case.
On the positive side, Twizys are still relatively competitive priced (for EV’s at least) and there’s a key list of features we would be keen to retain: a top speed of 50mph with nippy performance, a range of 50 miles, an impressive energy consumption (140 Wh/mile) and the convenience of being able to charge them from any 13amp socket.
We also think that funky design is critical for “not-cars” to appeal to people. If quadricycles aren’t eye-catchingly different and fun to drive, they will disappoint because they’ll fail to live up (performance and comfort-wise) to people’s expectations of a car.
We’ve had one shot at modifying a Twizy to give it more luggage capacity and improve its suspension and ability to cope with rougher roads. Following a trial on the Isle of Eigg followed by a harsh winter on the remote Knoydart peninsular in 2014, Toro is back living happily on Eigg and proving his worth every day carrying people and everyday supplies up and down their 5 miles of road powered by the island’s own renewable energy.
Not surprisingly, we eagerly track the emergence of any new electric quadricycle concept or manufactured vehicle as they emerge from time to time. We’re encouraged by the frequency with which they appear and the media interest they attract but disappointed that, with the very rare exception, they are focussed exclusively on the urban market and often significantly pricier than the Twizy. The price matters because a quadricycle is most likely a 2nd household car and, for some reason, is not eligible for any of the low emission government grants.
The emerging urban quadricycles often mimic the Twizy’s tandem seating (because city driving and parking favours narrow vehicles), its small wheels and low clearance and its miniscule luggage carrying capacity. (We puzzle as to what, if anything, city dwellers ever carry with them! ) The later vehicles also seem to be upping their battery size, top speed and range making them less energy efficient and significantly more expensive. Our experience suggests that the larger battery size to achieve greater range is a waste on open-sided quadricycles – they are primarily vehicles for local commuting in both city and country and, fun though the ride is, it’s not a vehicle you want to sit in for more than 20-25 miles max especially in cold weather.
Every vehicle needs to appeal on some dimension – these latest concepts seem to be appealing to people who want a cool looking vehicle which drives fast. Here on the Celtic rural fringes where it’s hilly, rough and muddy and we carry lots of stuff, we want something rugged which shouts ‘funktional’ (sic) but clearly looks fun to use – the kind of thing which Chelsea residents dream of having on their country estates. Five years on, our first electric buggies (b-bugs) still attract significant traffic on our website. Buggies definitely have that rugged funky appeal. But, as our trials have shown, we need a quadricycle which is a slightly more robust vehicle than a buggy to be practical. Unfortunately, we have also found imported Chinese chassis are not necessarily strong on quality.
There is one crossover between a Twizy like quadricycle and a buggy which appeared online recently. Manufactured in China, it has similar top speed (45 mph) and range (60 miles) to a Twizy but at the moment it would have to be imported and registered here which would add to its expense. On the plus side, it has side by side seating and a substantial luggage rack at the rear and claims to be an “all-terrain” vehicle so should cope well with rural tracks and roads. We’d really like to see more electric quadricycle options along these lines – maybe with a low price base model which has no accoutrements (weather proofing, doors, etc) and then a more expensive model which starts to include such features.
40% of our carbon footprint in rural areas is down to our personal transport compared to a much lower percentage in cities where mass transit is available and shops and other facilities are often within walking distance. In the countryside where public transport is sparse or non-existent, many households are forced to run 2 or more cars and, at least one of those will simply be a local runabout. But, sadly, few manufacturers design low-end vehicles explicitly for this market.