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Three-Wheel Cars and Trucks
By Bill Siuru, PhD, PE
Three-wheel trucks have been quite popular in Europe and Asia for decades. Anyone who has traveled to India, the Philippines, Thailand or other Asian countries probably has ridden in an autorickshaw. These three-wheel taxis have earned the nicknames "tuk tuk" or "phat phat" because of the sound of their two-stroke engines.
As fuel prices spiral upwards, three-wheelers represent a viable alternate in America, especially in ever more congested urban areas. Several companies are now selling three-wheelers, mainly imported from China and India in the U.S. In most states they are classified as motorcycles, unlike their four-wheel counterparts that are considered as off-road vehicles, so they can be operated on public roads. However, because their top speeds are usually only about 40 mph, they are not freeway-capable. Also since they don't have to meet the Federal safety standards for on-road, four-wheel vehicles, or even neighborhood electric vehicles, they are easily imported and sold for significantly lower prices.
Getting the most press is the all-electric Zap! Xebra that comes in both truck and four-door sedan versions. UPS has leased 42 Xebra's for package delivery in Petaluma, California. They are also used to deliver Domino's pizzas in Las Vegas.
Being battery powered, the Xebra vehicles are limited in range and may not have sufficient power to operate in hilly locales. Fortunately, there are several three-wheelers now available with gasoline engines that are more suitable for these operating environments. Naturally, they use much cleaner operating four-cycle engines rather the two-cycle ones that are notorious for their clouds of blue exhaust emissions found on trikes in their native countries.
Both a pickup truck and autorickshaw made by Bajaj, a major Indian auto manufacturer, are sold in the U.S. Both are powered by a 172 cc, 8.2-horsepower, four-stroke engine that provides a 40-mph top speed. The air-cooled engine features a Capacitive Discharge Ignition (CDI) system, electric start, and oil pump lubrication. This is connected to a 4-speed plus reverse transmission.
The pickup truck has a curb weight of 645 pounds and can carry 1,052 pounds with a 42-inch deep by 49-inch wide bed with 12" high sides. The autorickshaw weighs 650 pounds and can carry 740 pounds. Both have a list price of $6499. For the U.S. market, they are upgraded with a full, laminated glass wrap-around windshield, dual headlights, a fully hydraulic braking system and an anti-dive front suspension.
WildFire Motors ( www.wildfiremotors.com ) offers both a three-wheel pickup and five-door microvan. They are powered by a 248cc, Hi-Po liquid cooled, 17-horsepower engine with CDI ignition. The transmission has five speeds, plus reverse. Top speed is 50 mph with a 40 mph cruising speed. Up to 72 mpg is claimed, as is a 550-pound carrying capacity.
If you want even better performance, Trifun, Inc. ( www.trifu...