Japanese startup Terra Motors officially debuted its electric tuk-tuk (a type of three-wheeled passenger vehicle common in Asia), a tricycle that costs just over $6,000 U.S. and gets 31 miles on a 2 hour charge. The electric vehicle stands at the opposite end of the spectrum from something like the Tesla Model S Roadster, and for good reason: it’s designed to be affordable for emerging markets in large quantities.
The first fleet is already on order for the Philippines (via CNET), as part of a plan to replace 100,000 gas-powered tuk-tuks in that country by 2016, with more efficient, cost-effective electric vehicles. They’ll be offered to passenger transport drivers across the country on a lease-to-own basis, and should save those drives up to $5 per day in fuel costs, as well as cut down on air pollution on the ground in some very densely populated urban areas.
The Terra Motors electric trike isn’t exactly cheap at $6,300 (gas-powered models can be had for between $1,000 to around $1,500 depending on seating capacity and amenities), but it’s fundamentally opposite from something like a Tesla, which actually just axed its cheapest entry-level model citing poor demand. Terra Motors Director of Business Development Tetsuya Ohashi said in an email that the goal is to start expanding its business to the broader Asian market as quickly as possible, and hitting the right price point is a key ingredient in that strategy.
The Terra Motors tuk-tuk is also quite the looker, with a space-age design and ample interior seating, so it’s got that going for it over its gas-powered brethren, too. 31 miles isn’t terrific in terms of range, but these are designed as in-city transport for short trips. Still, having to bog down for two hours every time you hit that limit also isn’t going to be ideal, but the money saved in gas expenses could make up for the down time, especially if planned properly.
Terra has impressive investors, including former top execs from Apple Japan, Google Japan, Sony and Compaq. Chinese companies already market electric tuk-tuks, but none are quite as ambitious as this new prototype from Terra, and while a Dutch company called The Tuk Tuk Factory launched an EV a couple of years ago called the e-Tuk, it’s aimed primarily at the European market, so Terra has a chance to make a big splash depending on its reception.