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To the defence of quadricycles

After the media focus this week on the safety of quadricycles, after a crash test of a G-Wiz that scared lots of people, and subsequent government concern about their regulations, a defence is now being put up in favour of these small lightweight vehicles.

As a reminder, a “quadricycle” is a vehicle with four wheels whose unladen mass is not more than 400kg (excluding batteries if it is an electric vehicle) and whose maximum continuous rated power does not exceed 15 kW. The G-Wiz electric car is a quadricycle.

GoinGreen, the UK importer and retailer of the electric Reva G-Wiz, has responded by saying that “the G-Wiz has an exemplary safety record with over 20 million miles driven in London and worldwide and over 4,000 years of ownership, with no reported serious injuries. The G-Wiz is designed and used as a low-speed urban commuter vehicle. It meets all regulatory requirements and has received Full EU Type Approval. Actual data from the 750 G-Wiz already on London’s roads show that the average speed driven is 10mph.” In other words, it’s just highly unlikely that you’ll be going fast enough in one to do yourself a serious injury.

The defence has also been joined by Aardvark Associates, an environmental transport consultancy. They say that quadricycles, more generally known as microcars, offer a low impact personal transport solution for urban areas, in areas where traffic speed can be as low as 3-4 miles per hour, and certainly the potential to attain the 30 mph/48 kph legal limit is limited. They promote their benefits as:
– taking up less road space, both on the road and when parked
– pedestrian friendly
– economical and environmentally friendly
– virtually 100 per cent recyclable
– having a light footprint on the road so causing less road damage.
They see microcars as a real solution to urban personal transport, even local suburban and rural personal transport.

Manufacturers of these vehicles include Microcar, Aixam, Ligier and Reva; their volumes have been low, and their success has been qualified by special license arrangements and some dispensation from Type Approval regulations that apply to larger vehicles. They must fall within limited weight limits, and have power and speed restrictions imposed at the point of manufacture.

These quadricycles are smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient than any conventional vehicle. They have limited top speeds – and have lightweight polycarbonate bodies that absorb pedestrian impact. They can come with electric motive power as an option, so transferring the pollution created by their motive power to a controllable centralised point at the power stations.

As sales of these vehicles start to grow in the UK, particularly in urban areas, and certainly where sales are driven by congestion charging, Aardvark Associates asks the question “does the UK establishment welcome this move to smaller, more environmentally efficient vehicles with open arms?” They suggest the answer is no, and question the motive of slamming such a vehicle into an offset stationary block at 39 mph/64 kph – 5 mph/ 8 kph above the 35 mph/56 kph impact test speed set by EU passenger car Type Approval legislation. They make the point that this is a top speed that most will never attain in city traffic, and in the case of some models, one that is physically unattainable.

Aardvark continues: “This all raises questions about how committed the country is to the green agenda. There is now a constant drive against the larger motor car, and at the same time the smallest, lightest, option is being targeted by the establishment. Could it be that having unwittingly got what was asked for, in terms of low carbon vehicles, the government and the motor industry have realised that they have vested interests to protect. The motor industry needs to protect its investments in low carbon technology, big cars and internal combustion engines, and support from its allies in the oil industry, whilst the government needs to defend its revenues.” They suggest that the idea of a tax incentive to drive a zero emission car sounds great when there are none available, but this suddenly changes when the zero emission vehicle becomes a reality.

And there’s more! “Conspiracy theory? Maybe. However, it is clear that the government is duplicitous when it comes to transport solutions. Taxes on larger vehicles have little impact on those who can afford to run them. There is limited investment in public transport when it comes to trains and buses, yet high impact air transport continues to pay no tax on fuel and there are huge expansion plans for the air traffic sector across the UK. There is a serious conflict of messages when all this is going on, and the smaller, lighter, more environmentally friendly personal transport solution is coming under attack. One might also ask how much safer these vehicles would be if they were in the majority on the road? Surely then the heavy, powerful hatchback becomes the dangerous vehicle?”

Obviously slightly exasperated by it all, Aardvark end up by suggesting that, if there is no support for the quadricycle and the case against it is one of safety, the answer may be that we all take to the streets in armoured cars on the basis that they are much safer when involved in a collision with another vehicle… sounds like Arnie can take his Hummers out of storage, as there might be a market for them after all.