The company has a vehicle assembly line of its own, building electric three-wheelers in a small workshop in its facility in Bacoor, Cavite, since 2012, with sales starting in 2014. Although a cutting-edge vehicle, the idea behind the E-Trike was drawn from the pages of motoring history.
“Mercedes-Benz started out by building three-wheelers,” said KEA Vice President for Manufacturing Edmund Araga. “So that is our concept. We will start with the E-Trike and, eventually, enhance our production to other vehicles if the demand is there.”
KEA is one of around 10 electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers in the country. Araga said unlike the conventional vehicles being assembled in Santa Rosa, Laguna, for foreign brands, EVs like the company’s E-Trike are wholly made in the Philippines, with the majority of parts also made domestically. “Only the electric motor, controllers, chargers and wiring harnesses are made in China,” he said.
Araga gave Fast Times a tour around the workshop, littered with E-Trikes in varying stages of completion. Some were just bare frames mounted on massive jigs, some rolling units were in the paint booth and some older units were even undergoing routine servicing.
The E-Trike looks like an enlarged Piaggio Ape. It has a steel body placed on a steel-tube ladder-frame chassis, with one motorcycle wheel at the front and two car wheels at the back. Araga said the 12-inch rear wheels with commercial-rated tires are exactly the same as the ones on a Multicab mini-truck so owners can easily buy replacements.
Those wheels are attached to a rear axle underpinned by leaf springs. The E-Trike is available in four variants: the Bailey, a five-passenger van with forward-facing seats; the Erin CV, a closed cargo van; the Erin-P, a seven-passenger van with two side-facing benches; and the Rhine, a mini pick-up.
More radical is the power train. Between the rear wheels is a 2.2-kilowatt electric motor paired with five, 12-volt lead-acid batteries or, optionally, a single 48-volt lithium-ion battery pack that can be recharged from a household 220-volt socket. Araga said the lead-acid variant has a maximum range of 60 kilometers and can be fully charged in eight hours, while the lithium-ion variant can go up to 80 kilometers and be fully charged in four hours.
Araga took Fast Times around in a lithium-ion Bailey model, with a KEA driver taking the handlebars along Bacoor Boulevard. As we drove along, Araga said the local government has been very supportive of E-Trikes, not only designating special lanes for these vehicles, but also purchasing eight units for its libreng pasakay (free ride) program.
In addition, Araga said the city government’s E-Strike program (named after Bacoor City mayor Strike Revilla, brother of Senator Bong Revilla) exempts franchise fees to those who operate e-tricycles, such as the 10 KEA-operated E-Trikes that ply exclusively along Bacoor Boulevard. Araga also said since 2013, the city government has only granted new tricycle franchises to e-tricycles, although the around 7,000 conventional tricycles in Bacoor are still allowed to operate for the time being.
Turning off into a side street, the driver showed us some of E-Trike’s tricks. With four onboard, he set the transmission into low gear and climbed a parking lot’s 40-degree incline without struggle. Turning around, he went down the without incident, aided by disc brakes in all wheels.
At the end of the street, we pull over at a supermarket, where KEA has put up one of its two charging stations in Bacoor. For P5, EVs can get 10 minutes of charging. Araga said the station was built without cost to KEA under an agreement with the supermarket’s owner, with the latter taking all the revenue, in exchange.
Zippy but stable
I then moved to the driver’s cab and was briefed on the vehicle’s controls. Much like a motorcycle, the E-Trike has a right-twist throttle with a right-hand, front-brake lever. But more car-like are the brake pedal that controls the rear brakes, the gear levers to the right of the handlebars that control the high-low range and the reverse, neutral and forward gears, and the parking brake handle that sits to the left of the handlebars.
As we set off along Bacoor Boulevard, I noticed that, like an ordinary tricycle, the E-Trike’s handlebars require a firm grip at low speeds from the considerable shaking – something like a side damper or even a slightly wider front tire would aid stability. Very nicely, the silent whirring of the electric motor and pliant ride are a stark contrast to the great racket and crashing ride of two- or four-stroke tricycles.
The E-Trike’s acceleration is instantaneous, smoothly going up to 80 kilometers per hour along the six-lane highway. Reassuringly, it remains very stable even at those speeds. Araga said the E-Trike may be fitted with a speed limiter since it would typically be designated as a low-speed vehicle.
As I was approaching a stoplight, my bicyclist’s instincts kicked in and I pulled the front brake handle, which resulted in the furious and shuddering objection from the front disc. The driver said I should apply the rear brakes first, which were far more effective, although the cable-operated system meant you had to bury the pedal to the floor early to stop in time.
Financing programs in the works
Araga said the lead-acid variants start at P260,000, while the lithium-ion variants start at P320,000 with a two-to-three-year lease on the battery pack. Responding to questions on the huge price difference between a conventional tricycle and an E-Trike, he said the latter’s far lower operating costs (from having no fluids to replace or complicated mechanical parts to service) and bigger passenger capacity mean tricycle drivers and operators could generate greater revenue in the long run.
Likewise, Araga said the city government is currently working on financing programs that would help operators, who have said they cannot afford E-Trikes, to obtain them. He also said the company has sold 45 E-Trikes not to only local government units (LGUs) but also to big corporations like Maynilad and Uratex.
Indeed, should other LGUs follow Bacoor’s lead, commuters who travel short distances can do so in far more comfort and safety, while being environmentally friendly.