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201324 Apr

Quadricycles: Dissecting the BullS#!T

Bajaj-RE60-L.jpg

Bajaj RE 60, an example of a quadricycle

 

The media is buzz with news concerning the introduction of quadricycles, or basic four-wheeled vehicles, in the Indian market. A report prepared by a special executive committee, headed by Dinesh Tyagi, Technical Director of ICAT (International Centre for Automotive Technology) is looking at various aspects concerning the introduction of quadricycles in India. The report should be in the public domain shortly. Meanwhile, though there are lobbyists arguing for and against the introduction of quadricycles in India.

In a country as large and diverse as India, any topic is a potential hot biscuit, often with many participants ill-informed about the facts. Also, when the judiciary seeks to play a part, the old adage “little knowledge is dangerous” can take on monstrous proportions.

 

Consider the order of the Karnataka High Court given on April 16, 2013 by Justice Ram Mohan Reddy.

 

Order in Case: MFA 12034/2005

 

The report of the Committee appointed by Government of India, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways to consider safety of occupants of 3-wheeler auto rickshaws, in compliance with the order dated 24.2.2012 of this Court, enclosed to the memo dated 28.1.2013, at internal page No.11 under the nomenclature of Summary of Observations and Recommendations at item No.8.1.3, it is stated that the Committee considers that there is no need for inclusion of rollover test for 3-wheelers as rollover does not seem to be normal phenomena in 3-wheeler accidents. 

 

The above said committee obviously has little or no knowledge about physics, and I’m not one to comment about common sense at the risk of perjury and contempt of court. You may draw your own conclusions.

 

Would quadricycles be safer than three-wheelers? Undoubtedly so. Are they a viable alternative to a passenger car? Not really, because they will never meet the same safety and emission standards.

 

However, the chief bone of contention for the camp opposing the introduction of quardicycles is that these vehicles do not need to meet with the same criteria as passenger cars in two key aspects: emissions and safety.

 

Both are valid arguments, and it is unlikely that a quadricycle will ever meet the same crash-test parameters because they are not built to do so. As far as emissions are concerned, some say that a quadricycle emits 8 times as much hydrocarbon and CO2 emissions as a petrol car. I find that hard to believe, because they are smaller, lighter and have much smaller engines, even if they do not use the same sophisticated catalytic converter technologies, for example.

 

Are quadricycles, if introduced, likely to become as ubiquitous as their three-wheeled brethren? This is highly likely.

Once again, the camp opposed to the introduction of quadricycles say that if this category of vehicles is allowed, three-wheelers should be “banned and replaced”.

 

Three-wheelers are ubiquitous across the length and breadth of India, and are used for every conceivable purpose from passenger transport, as goods carriers, school ferry services and water tankers.

If you’ve lived in India, you’ve surely travelled in, on or appended to a 3-wheeler at some point in your life. Would you feel safer in a four-wheeled contraption rather than a three-wheeled one? I know I would, just a bit.

 

But all the lobbying, policy making, committee sitting and report making cannot make up for one bare truth – human life has low value in India. With 2 lakh deaths a year on our roads, the move from three-wheelers to quadricycles won’t matter a fig as long as the same nonchalance by road users persists.

 

The immediate and obvious beneficiary if quadricycles are legitimatised would be Bajaj Auto. It already has a working prototype in the RE 60, and given its massive vendor base, it would take Bajaj no time at all to roll these out across the country is massive numbers. Other manufacturers would quickly follow suit, although some industry stalwarts, like TVS’ Venu Srinivasan, has gone on record to say that he is opposed to the quadricycle.

The biggest loser could be the Tata Nano. It complies with all safety and emission regulations to qualify as a car, but something like the RE 60 would easily undercut it substantially.

 

SIAM has also gone on record to say that it has no say in the matter and has declined comment either way. These are contentious times for the Indian auto industry. Even if the regulatory framework works out a compromise, allowing the introduction of quadricycles but limiting their deployment to certain areas only, it is unlikely that these rules will be followed. Case in point? Consider the picture below.

 

overloaded rickshaw

How are you going to regulate this, GOI, SIAM, NHAI, ICAT etc etc?