Clean drive

NEATLY painted white and bearing the inscription safa tempo (meaning clean three-wheeler in Nepali language) on the sides in green letters - the electric passenger vehicles have come as a blessing in disguise to rescue the residents of Kathmandu. Although only seven in number at present, in the safa tempo, the commuters of Kathmandu see a ray of hope for rescuing the environment, national monuments and also the national economy.

The idea was introduced three years ago by the Global Resource Institute (GRI), a US NGO. "We started in September 1993 with the conversion of a smoky Vikram tempo into an electric non-polluting safa tempo," said Peter Maulton, executive director, GRI. The safa tempo project was initiated with a special grant of us $500,000.

The safa tempo project also convinced the government to reduce import duty on electric vehicles from 125 per cent to- 10 per cent. Four months ago, the project, with its seven vehicles, battery chargers and 100 Trojan batteries were sold to the Nepal Electric Vehicle Industry (NEVI) for Rs 2.1 million (us $33,000). "We have reached a break-even point," said Bijaya Man Serchan, managing director of NEV1. "We are very much encouraged by the government as well as by our operation, so we are planning to increase our fleet to 30."

NEVI engineers are also involved in the production of battery chargers which originally cost us $800. Besides, they are working to produce a AC/DC convertor to convert 72 volts to 12 volts. When developed, the convertor will further reduce the cost of the electric passenger vehicles.

"A prototype is already there which will be more comfortable for the passengers and will require less maintenance," added Serchan. "Load distribution is a big problem with the present model as it uses six batteries weighing 150 kg, a gear box weighing 50 kg and require heavy maintenance. To reduce the overall cost we will remove the gear box and make other changes."

A company having wider interests in this project, Electric Vehicle Company, which is a joint venture between several UK and us and nine Nepalese business houses and industrialists, have also been established. "Kathmandu is ideal for electric vehicles because most people travel less than 50 km and the speed is very slow," said Graham Burgess, a representative of the American Power Products which happens to be one of the partner firms.