PARIS -- As automakers have been reminding us over the past few years, mobility comes in many shapes and sizes. The simplest description of PSA's latest effort in the field of mobility services is that it's a plug-in hybrid three-wheeled scooter.
The prototype "efficient light urban vehicle" -- it doesn't have a catchy name yet -- was developed with EU-LIVE, a consortium of research groups, suppliers and vehicle manufacturers. Its goal is to create a low-emissions, modular architecture for category L vehicles for Europe and export markets.
In case you were wondering, the European Union defines category L vehicles as having two, three or four wheels and weighing under 450 kg -- in other words, scooters, motorcycles and microcars. (Category M is for passenger cars; category N is cargo vehicles; category O is tractor-trailers.) To be precise, PSA's vehicle is in category L5e, meaning a three-wheeled vehicle that can travel on public roads at speeds above 50 kph.
PSA's trike is something of a Swiss Army Knife. It's designed to solve a number of problems using different tools in a very small package.
The single-passenger cabin, which drivers enter via scissoring doors, is enclosed and heated and has seatbelts and airbags, eliminating the need for helmets or other protective gear.
Two electric motors powered by a Samsung 48-volt battery drive the rear wheel up to speeds of 70 km/hour for zero-emission city driving. Above 70, a 31-kilowatt gasoline engine from Peugeot Scooters takes over, enabling a top speed of 130 kph.
The vehicle turns by leaning, "making it as easy to drive as a three-wheeled scooter," PSA says. Suspension components are hydraulic and hydropneumatic, and have accounted for at least six patent applications, the company says. At just 2.4 meters long (shorter than a Smart ForTwo) and 85 centimeters wide, it can park almost anywhere.
A possible Twizy competitor
Speaking of catchy names, Renault's electric Twizy draws from a similar well of inspiration, but there are key differences between the two vehicles. The two-seater Twizy is more car-like, with four outboard wheels and traditional steering and suspension. Yet, with a top speed of 80 kph and a real-world range of about 80 kilometers per charge, it's largely limited to urban use.
And, of course, the Twizy has been on the market for five years, with total sales of more than 20,000 units. It even comes in a light-commercial version.
PSA says the prototype is functional, but wouldn't give a date when a production version could be available. The company has long history in the scooter business, although Peugeot Scooters is now controlled by the Indian company Mahindra, which bought a 51 percent stake in 2014 as PSA was emerging from a financial crisis.
Small size, large emissions
One of the goals of the EU-LIVE project is to reduce total energy consumption by 70 percent compared with current three-wheel scooters. Category L vehicles make up a relatively small percentage of registrations in Europe, but there is evidence that they account for an outsized share of emissions.
A French study published in November found that two-stroke 50cc scooters emit many times more dangerous compounds like benzene and toluene than do passenger cars. Larger, fuel-injected scooters such as the three-wheelers that have become popular in the past 10 years have their problems too. They are often run at wide-open throttle, reducing the effectiveness of their catalytic converters, the study found.
"There are environmental benefits in downsizing vehicles and encouraging sales of smaller, efficient vehicles," said Julia Hildermeier, clean vehicles and e-mobility officer at Transport & Environment, an advocacy group. "In particular, electrifying L-category vehicles as a growing vehicle segment is urgently needed."
Learning from the auto industry
EU-LIVE hopes that PSA's prototype can serve as a blueprint for "cost-efficient, clean, quiet, easy-to-park and easy-to-maneuver urban vehicles that enable a broad spectrum of users to freely, comfortably and affordably move around in highly populated areas."
The consortium wants to encourage sales by lowering the price of L category vehicles, using strategies developed by the car industry. That means more modular designs, shared research and development costs, and more cooperation among manufacturers.
The technological "building blocks" incorporated into PSA's prototype will also be used to develop two-wheeled and four-wheeled models, EU LIVE says.
That's a lot for a tricycle to live up to.