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Opinion

E-trikes will shape the future of transportation (but need to drastically change course)

E-trikes will shape the future of transportation (but need to drastically change course)
Professor Hiroshi Shimizu standing near one of SIM-Drives electric vehicles

The Asian Development Bank’s E-trike project hopes to replace a sizable amount of fossil-fuel spewing motorized passenger bikes used as public utility vehicles in the streets of Asian countries with cleaner emitting electric-power versions.

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The first country to benefit from this project will be the Philippines, where the A.D.B. is cooperating with the national government to bring a fleet of up to 100,000 electric-powered passenger motorbikes by the year 2020 (see related story).

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Similar fleets in other Asian countries are set to follow.

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Professor Hiroshi Shimizu, known as the “Father of Electric Vehicles in Japan”, has been watching the project with interest since he first heard of it about a year and a half ago.

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Professor Shimizu has been working in the field of electric vehicles for the past 35 years and has had a hand in developing and designing over 15 electric vehicle types, mostly as part of the technology development company SIM-Drive.

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EcoSeed was fortunate enough to sit down to a Q and A with Professor Shimizu, in which he shared some of his ideas and opinions on the future of e-trikes. “As it is related to my field, I pay close attention to these kinds of upcoming projects worldwide,” he told EcoSeed.

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However, he added that, while the e-trike project is a golden opportunity with immense potential, certain changes have to be made and fast.

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Q: What do you think of the E-trike project? Will these sort of projects have an impact on the electric vehicle sector?

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I think the project itself is a very promising one. It is timely and answers a urgent, immediate market need. The strategy of the project, to use e-trikes as the first steps to introducing electric vehicles to the developing world, is a very smart one. It has a high rate of success if executed properly.

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Q: What do you think the project needs to do if it is to be executed properly?

I think it will require substantial investment from any party who wants to seriously take part in it and succeed, but the long term potential of the market will surly justify it.

The one area in which a drastic change is necessary is tactics. It seems to be heading in the wrong direction in that aspect and I am afraid that if it will not be steered back to the right track, it will amount to very little.

Q: Why? What are the proper tactics for something like this?

Developing any good product from concept to commercial stage generally requires 3 important stages: Stage A would be the verification of the idea/theory; Stage B would be proper development to thoroughly realize the reliability, durability, safety and cost of the product, then and only then should you move to Stage C, Mass Production.

Stage B is a very crucial stage; it is also the most important stage as many theories and great ideas often do not perform the way they are expected.

I have seen many times companies investing hundreds of millions of dollars in ideas that in the end amounted to nothing, when the development stage was not done properly.

In the e-tike project, as far as I can see, stages A and B are omitted almost completely.

Q: What will happen to the project then?

It is not too late to change course, but continuing in the same direction, the result might be just a lot of “junk” and the world will miss a golden opportunity to move forward with the acceptance and integration of electric vehicles. I personally would not want to see such a fine project fail, regardless if I take an active part in it or not.

Q: What would you suggest can be done?

A: Before jumping into mass production, e-trikes will require thorough and detailed development.

As I see it, in the early stages of a project like this, different groups will be invited to conduct a proper and through development of the concept. Out of these groups, a few will be chosen to move on to mass production.

Doing so will ensure a much higher chance of success and result in solid products which can be used over many years. This will also setup a solid foundation for future generations of electric transportation systems for the developing world. According to how I see it, that is the only way to succeed in this project.

E-trikes will shape the future of transportation (but need to drastically change course)

To clarify my point, I would say the following: the current direction the project is progression in a form of linear growth (as in production of 5,000 units in the first year, 10,000 units in the second year, 20,000 units in the third year etc.). My proposal is to change it to a progression in a way that the first 1-2 years will yield close to zero units in actual production. However, after the first 1-2 year, the units are produced in a much faster rate and soon will surpass the predicted number of units produced in the linear approach (see graph pictured above). The reason for that is that the units will be well made, with multiple appropriate parameters for fast implementation and mass production.

Q: How likely you see the possibility for such a change to happen?

A: I believe it is possible. The Philippines minister of transportation was replaced about half a year ago (Author: referring to Cavite Representative Joseph Emilio Abaya, which was appointed last Aug. 2012 as the Philippines secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communication). The fact that a new secretary was appointed is a good opportunity for a change (since the older guard was the one who initiated the program). It is but natural that a new head will wish to review and possibly revise some of the project’s direction or guidelines. Without these changes, I am afraid the whole project will just disappear (or just become “a large pile of junk”); and so I think the new secretary should do whatever he can to revise or change the project.

I would like to conclude and say that: the E-Trike project can change the world, let’s try to give it the chance it deserves!



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