• Slow-moving e-trike program set to shift gears


    foto Ben Kritz

    A program to begin replacing some of the country’s 3.5 million gasoline-powered commuter tricycles with more efficient, environmentally-friendly electric models appears to be finally moving forward with the approach of the end of the program’s bidding period and the arrival on the scene of an experienced Japanese electric vehicle manufacturer. The E-tricycle (or “e-trike”) program was initiated with financing organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in December, 2010 and is being overseen by ADB and the Department of Energy, and aims to distribute about 20,000 e-trikes by the end of 2015.

    The e-trike is a six-seat unit powered by lithium-ion batteries, and uses about 3 kilowatt hours of electricity (roughly P36.60 at current electric rates) per 100 kilometers of travel. By contrast, the most efficient 125 cc four-stroke tricycles—which are anything but representative of the country’s tricycle fleet—manage a fuel economy of between 2 liters and 2.7 liters per 100 kilometers, which costs between P100 and P135. The economic and environmental advantages are obvious; not only can the e-trike safely accommodate more passengers than a typical tricycle, it has virtually no carbon footprint, it reduces the use of dangerous lead-acid batteries, is almost silent when in operation, and reduces operating costs by more than 60 percent.

    This project is full of win for everyone concerned, but it has been slow to get off the ground; after its approval by the ADB board in December, 2010, an initial pilot test of 20 units was launched in Mandaluyong City, which until now are still the only e-trike units—save for a few Chinese- or domestically built models here and there, powered by heavier and less efficient lead-acid batteries and otherwise inconsistent with the ADB- and DOE-approved design—in operation, albeit operating very successfully by most accounts. Fortunately, it now appears as though the project will get a welcome boost. At least 21 interested companies have purchased bidding documents, and per DOE specifications at least six of those companies should be characterized as ‘serious’ bidders in order to have a properly competitive bidding, a goal which has been achieved, according to ADB’s Principal Energy Specialist for Southeast Asia Sohail Hasnie. With the bidding phase set to wrap up on July 30, the prospects appear good for meeting the initial target set by ADB and DOE, extending the pilot testing of the e-trike units to three more areas (20 in each area, for a total of 60 units) by the end of the year.

    Although Hasnie understandably was not able to disclose the identity of the “serious” prospects, one bidding participant that is not waiting for the formalities to run their course before introducing itself to the public is Terra Motors, a Japan-based manufacturer of electric vehicles that has teamed up with a still-unnamed local partner to pursue manufacture of e-trikes and other electric cycles at a facility in Laguna. Earlier this month, Terra Motors presented its e-trike model based on the DOE design to the media, and is currently testing the model to study local road conditions, particularly in flood situations, according to Teppei Seki, Terra Motors director for Business Development. Although the focus for Terra Motors is currently on the bidding process for the e-trike program and negotiations for environmental incentives from the Board of Investments and other agencies, the $20 million the company has initially invested is also intended to be used to set up long-term production, hopefully to begin by the fourth quarter of this year, regardless of the outcome of the e-trike project bid.

    “We are making efforts to create a sustainable business model,” explained Seki. “We have the largest market share in Japan for electric bicycles, and we see good opportunities here as well as elsewhere in Asia,” he added. One of Terra Motor’s main targets is to fill the vacuum left by the failure of the Chinese-made “Low E-Bike,” which was popular in Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia before the company folded in 2009. Seki pointed out that unlike the Chinese model—or for that matter, the large number of inexpensive electric bikes that have become popular in the Philippines in the last year or so—Terra Motor’s advantage is that it has a full aftersales program, and will be able to provide parts and service support for customers long after their purchase. Incidentally, ADB’s Hasnie also explained that one of the DOE specifications for the e-trike project is an aftersales support program for a minimum of five years.

    Whether Terra Motors will be the supplier, or one of the suppliers, of the e-trikes remains to be seen; one must think, however, that the company’s shrewd marketing move in introducing itself to the Philippine public might well be a significant advantage. Even if Terra is not the DOE’s first choice, the government should extend more than the usual welcome—legitimate foreign direct investment, particular direct investment in a long-term, job-generating manufacturing enterprise has been scarce for too long in the Philippines, and the chance to have a company like Terra Motors set up shop here should not be missed. And particularly not when it is a company producing vehicles that provide solid answers to the chronic problems of pollution, gridlock and imported fuel dependency.

    As much can be said of the e-trike program as well; while it is a welcome sign that it appears to have shifted to a higher gear and will move forward at a little faster pace, further delays and bureaucratic inertia must be avoided. Philippine commuters deserve a safer, cleaner transportation option; Philippine drivers deserve the chance to share the road with fewer noisy, pollution-spewing, and badly driven conventional tricycles; and tricycle operators deserve a chance to make a better living from their dangerous and difficult job. Now that the e-trike program has been brought to the public’s attention—thanks in large part to Terra Motor’s public introduction—those responsible for seeing the program brought to fruition should take note they are now under some scrutiny—optimistic and supportive attention, to be sure, but scrutiny nonetheless.


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    1. Despite the obvious benefits, I do agree that the operators and the public will still need to be clear on the incentives to make the switch. That burden will be on the DOE and ADB, and I hope they get professional help and not do it in-house, e.g. “more fun on an e-trike” or something equally as meaningless. Make the environmental impact clear and quantifiable and hope it resonates and sticks.

      It’ll be interesting to see how the rollout occurs. Will the initial price be subsidized or discounted with a trade-in of the old trikes? And what of the old trikes—will they be placed back on the road, exported, or recycled? The battery functionality and charging time will matter. The current fueling downtime is the time it takes to empty a coke bottle, literally. But an idle, charging trike means lost revenue and a need for additional trikes in a fleet to compensate for those off the road charging, unless the battery is standard across all units and can be quickly removed and replaced with a charged one. And ADB should demand and maintain transparency in all the regulation and licensing. Can’t leave anything to the Feds. And paint them all the same color, too, like a modern city would. I’m confident in ADB to have these things covered. Get the public on board and this could be a gamechanger.

      • To answer a couple of your questions, as I understood from speaking to Mr. Hasnie and reading some of ADB’s explanatory material, the trikes will mainly be offered through a lease-to-own scheme, which the ADB believes is manageable for the owner/operator due to the P70-P100 savings per 100 km the new unit will represent (even at the same income level of the old one, although the new one should be able to generate more revenue). The trike can take a fast charge — good for 1-2 hours’ operation — in about 15 minutes, so one idea is to develop charging stations for trike waiting areas to make use of the downtime they would otherwise have. Full charging can take place at night, of course, when the trike is out of service anyway.

        My impression is that ADB has a good program developed from their end, and has covered all or at least most of the bases — of course, part of the point of running extended pilot tests is to see if issues arise that need to be addressed. I can’t vouch for the DOE; however, because the funding source (ADB) is paying such close attention, I think this augurs well for the management of the program overall.

      • Thanks for the response, Ben. The electric vehicle/alternative energy industry is a constantly improving science. This program will need to remain financed for upgrades, and it may be helpful to keep the supply chain under limited-term contracts to keep them as competitive and innovative as their multiplying peers. Tesla just announced today their 90 second battery swap method:

        P.S. I’m enjoying your Twitter feed. Good stuff.

    2. I have to agree with odellbub. Negativity tends to attempt to strangle just about anything that might to lead to improvement. In my opinion there will initially only be a gradual transition to the e trike – acceptance will accelerate as the program becomes more established. Incentive to an operator ? (1) “not only can the e-trike safely accommodate more passengers than a typical tricycle” (2) “reduces operating costs by more than 60 percent”. Apart from those two operator incentives I rather like the prospect of ” almost silent when in operation” – the noise pollution around my Manila house, in particular in the mornings, is such that the prospect of change is more than welcome. I could even envisage the time that housing associations may well restrict access to their sub-divisions to e trikes !

    3. domingo ligot on

      It is not clear to me what incentive there is for an operator to replace his gasoline fed tricycle to the “e trike”. Will the government replace his tricycle for free or at least at a big discount and very easy payment for the new e trike, otherwise why would an operator take on the burden of paying for a new e trike and what will he do with his current tricycle? Justifications that the e trike has no carbon footprint, very silent and will contribute to lessening our dependence on imported oil are a lot of nonsense as I see it. No operator will be moved by such noble considerations besides do we truly believe that the impact of these tricycles to global carbon emissions and our “dependence on imported oil” is of such grand scale as to spur a major program of the DOE to “replace all tricycles” in the country. The DOE will better use its resources and talents to address the worsening lack of electricity in Mindanao and elsewhere. How about fixing the national grid so that the alleged surplus of power in Luzon can be used somewhere else.

      • Oh my God, yes! While we’re at it, why don’t we solve the squatter problem that’s getting out of hand? Or the mass exodus of actually intelligent Filipinos to other countries? Or our burgeoning population that’s putting a massive strain on our resources?!? Let’s further crucify this government when they try to address actual problems that we personally don’t deem to be as important!!!