NAVEEN Rabelli’s tuk-tuk broke down the first time he rolled it out of his garage. The electrical engineer didn’t lose heart. Now, he plans to drive his customised three-wheeler all the way to London.
Rabelli will leave India next year on a 9,600-km (6,000-mile) odyssey through 10 countries to promote the idea of environmentally friendly travel. His tuk-tuk, or auto rickshaw, is powered entirely by electricity and solar power.
“What better way is there to travel? The tuk-tuk is an Indian icon and this vehicle does not pollute the air in any way,” Rabelli, 33, told Reuters as he rode alongside a lake in the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
Equipped with a new motor, battery and gearbox, the bright red vehicle — named Tejas, a Sanskrit word meaning splendour or brilliance — now bears little resemblance to the sputtering, diesel-fuelled three-wheelers ubiquitous on India’s roads.
A tonne when fully loaded, it weighs double a normal auto rickshaw. Its roof is made entirely from solar panels and cloth drapes protect its open sides from the elements.
Eight hours of battery charge will carry the tuk-tuk fewer than 50 miles, while five hours’ exposure to the sun will allow Tejas to push on for another 16 miles. That’s a lot of recharging stops on the road to London.
The project has already cost Rabelli his life savings of about US$6,000 (RM19,000). Before he leaves, he needs to raise more cash to reinforce the tuk-tuk’s rickety flooring and to buy a lithium-ion battery to replace the old lead-acid power source.
He says, however, that his vehicle is more economical than a typical auto rickshaw: the solar-electric variant can run 100km on less than a dollar, while a tuk-tuk running on diesel would require about US$4 to go the same distance.
Rabelli plans to ride his tuk-tuk from Bangalore to Mumbai, before putting it on a boat to Iran.
Rabelli said he chose Kopacka, who plans to film a documentary of the journey, over other applicants because the 26-year-old Austrian is just short enough to lie down full-length in the back of the vehicle.