Auto rickshaws, commonly known as tuk-tuks, are a fixture on the roads of Thailand’s capital Bangkok.
Now, one business is looking to transform the way these dinky vehicles get around by developing versions that are 100 percent electric.
The environmental benefit of such a shift could be considerable according to Michel Hublet, sales and marketing director at Tuk Tuk Factory.
“We calculate that about four tons per year of CO2 (carbon dioxide) is produced by a petrol tuk-tuk,” he told CNBC’s Sustainable Energy. “We have 20,000 tuks running in Thailand, so it’s close to a 100,000 tons of CO2… produced by the tuks.”
Around the world, a number of big businesses are investing in electric vehicle infrastructure. At the end of June, for example, oil giant BP said it had entered into an agreement to buy electric vehicle-charging business Chargemaster. And in January, BP invested $5 million in FreeWire Technologies, a company that manufactures mobile, rapid-charging systems for EVs.
In Thailand, Tuk Tuk Factory has been producing its e-tuks since 2011, with cargo, limousine and vending versions of the vehicle available to consumers.
Dennis Harte is the company’s founder. He said that the first vehicles that the business made had been designed for the Western market, with tuk-tuks sold in Europe, the U.S. and Australia. With a few adaptations, the business has started selling its vehicles to the Thai market.
“It will go step-by-step, but now there is a real willingness to develop electric mobility in Thailand,” Hublet said. “We have, already, two projects: one in Chiang Mai for 450 tuks and then there is another project, which is more aiming at resorts and hotels, for about 100 tuks.”
Looking at the bigger picture, access to mobility is a huge challenge globally, according to Nancy Vandycke, an economist at the World Bank focusing on transport and infrastructure.
“In rural areas we still have at least 1 billion people in the world that do not even have access to a basic all-weather road,” she said. “This means that farmers cannot access markets to sell their goods — they are cut off from any social and economic opportunities.”