The age of the quadricycle | Sunday Observer

The age of the quadricycle

This columnist has always argued that three wheelers should be phased out at least by 2030 and replaced with a proper four-door alternative. We all know the three wheeler is a fundamentally unsafe vehicle responsible for many accidents. However, for those looking to replace the three wheeler, the choices are rather limited. One can go down-market and opt for a motorcycle, which is even more unsafe. It is also a strict no-no for families, although some do take a huge risk by cramming everyone onto a scooter or motorcycle.

The upmarket alternative is a small four-door car. But, therein lies a major hurdle for most people as even the cheapest car costs around Rs.1.7 million. With a three wheeler costing nearly Rs. one million less, there is no contest. As long as this situation persists, the three wheeler will find a market.

But, what if there is a Middle of the Market (MOM) alternative that slots somewhere in between the three wheeler and the small car ? There is, in fact. It is called the Quadricycle – a proper four-door vehicle with a steering wheel and small engine, that is much more safer and comfortable than a three-wheeler. I will take a quadricycle over a three wheeler any day.

Arduous testing

Motorized quadricycles are small, and fuel-efficient vehicles intended to be a small urban vehicle fit for crowded streets. According to recent research in Europe, motorized quadricycles continue to be an attractive vehicle segment, especially, among the urbanites. It is also an attractive option for mobility, (i.e. disabled users). Motorized quadricycles are easy to handle; these usually have a CVT transmission and require comparatively low maintenance as compared to other passenger cars.

The quadricycle is finally here after a long and arduous testing and certification process, being an entirely new category of vehicles for Sri Lanka. The first quadricycles in the local market will initially be sourced from Bajaj of India which makes one under the Qute model name. Quadricycles will be introduced almost simultaneously in Sri Lanka and India, where safety concerns and certification delays held up the launch. Four units have already been registered in Sri Lanka under a totally new category/series (GAA onwards) for testing purposes prior to the full launch. I saw one in Colombo recently and heads turned wherever it went. This is a victory for everyone who was concerned about the safety (or lack thereof) of three wheelers.

Although the small, light (around 450 kg) vehicle with a 216 CC engine and top speed of 70 Km/hour will not be aimed specifically at the taxi/ride hailing market, one can see why it would be very attractive to that sector. Fuel consumption would be broadly similar, but the biggest draw will be the price. We are hearing a sub Rs.1 million price, which would be no more than a Rs.200,000 difference. Who in his right mind would buy a three wheeler for nearly Rs.700,000 when a proper four-wheel vehicle costs only slightly more? Besides, the difference will be even more marginal on an instalment/leasing plan. If the quadricycle becomes popular as expected, the death knell will certainly be sounded for the three wheeler.

Since the market for “on hire” three wheelers (of which there are at least one million) has been tapering off for some time now, three wheeler importers were targeting families with young children. Hence, their portrayal of the three wheeler as a family vehicle in many advertisements. They will therefore be keen to market the quadricycle too as a family vehicle, one which is much more safer. This will be appealing to families who cannot muster the money needed to buy a car but who do not want a three wheeler either.

The new Quadricycle apparently does around 36 Km per litre (variable under different conditions) and emits 66 grams of carbon dioxide per km. These figures are higher than those seen in a usual three-wheeler, making its quadricycle more economical and environment-friendly. On the safety front, the quadricycles come with seat belts for both driver and passengers (but no airbags) meeting the European Standards and Guidelines of Quadricycle quality and design.

It was laughable that a local three wheeler operators’ union has protested against the launch and registration of quadricycles, citing safety concerns, of all things. This ‘concern’ comes from the very same three wheeler drivers who have tampered with the front wheel lock that prevents u-turns on a dime and who flout all road rules in their rickety contraptions. It must however be conceded that quadricycles are not as safe as a normal car due to structural limitations. However, manufacturers are striving to address these concerns.

Quadricycles are already a well-established category in many European countries. There is a growing demand there for electric quadricycles, which we are sure will find their way to Sri Lanka over the next few years. After Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia are anticipated to be major upcoming markets for motorized quadricycles. “Many consumers in European countries such as Germany, France and the UK, among others, are opting for electric quadricycle over compact cars. In addition, car rental companies in Europe are providing motorized quadricycles on rent and promoting their use in the region’s automobile market,” a recent report by Persistence Market Research stated.

Compact passenger car

However, there are valid concerns with regard to quadricycles in the local context. If they are driven the same way like the three wheelers, any safety advantage(s) may be negated. A separate licence category should be created for quadricycles, even though those who already hold car licences could be allowed to drive quadricycles. There is another challenge: Sub-A segment cars – micro cars such as, the Smart ForTwo that are filling the space between a quadricycle and a compact passenger car – are gaining traction in countries such as France, which is incidentally the biggest market for quadricycles at present.

Quadricycles will essentially be city vehicles aimed at the ‘last-mile’ run (such as, from the train station to the passenger’s home) for hiring purposes, and as a city runabout (within 20 Km) for families. Many are also likely to buy it as a second or third car for occasional runs. This category of vehicle will no doubt transform Sri Lanka’s transport landscape in a big way. Remember, the motor car industry is already predicting autonomous cars that will pick you up and drop you off at the preferred destination by say, 2030. This would also change ownership patterns, because owing a car per se would no longer be necessary as you have access to a car 24/7. But, at least until then, the quadricycle could bring vehicle ownership to a hitherto untapped market segment.