KTM and Piaggio receive EU funding to develop electric four-wheelers

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Piaggio's MP3 Hybrid 300 i.e. LT has been available since 2009, with a combination of a 278 cc internal combustion engine and an electric motor(Credit: Piaggio)

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The European Union is encouraging the development of modular electric vehicles that car drivers will find attractive for urban commuting under an initiative called Range of Electric Solution L-category Vehicles (Resolve). The public release of this project’s funding has seen KTM and Piaggio emerge as the prime movers in a project that aims to make efficient three- and four-wheel tilting narrow track vehicles a common sight on European roads by the end of the decade.

European roads are congested and for the majority of its big cities this problem goes hand-in-hand with pollution. Authorities have often gone to great lengths in search of a solution, employing measures such as restricting access to the city center (Rome, Athens), enforcing congestion charges (London) or even designing the city to be hostile towards cars (Amsterdam). Whichever the course of action, in most cases crossing the city’s center by car usually means wasting time inversely proportional to the distance covered.

The European Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers (ACEM or Association des Constructeurs Européens de Motocycles – the official name in French) has long campaigned for two-wheelers as the solution to congestion, achieving the occasional concession – exemption from congestion charges, unlimited access to city centers, legally riding 50 cc two-wheelers with a car license. Yet none of these efforts seem to have made any significant difference – motorcycle sales in Europe still amount to just a fraction of automobile sales and congestion is ever present.

Enter Resolve. This project has been designed under the Horizon 2020 innovation program, an €80 billion (US$87 billion) initiative aimed at securing Europe's global competitiveness. Resolve intends to enable the development of cost-effective, energy efficient Electric L-category Vehicles (ELV) with the primary target of attracting car drivers to switch to ELVs for daily urban commutes. The “L-category” is EU textbook technical jargon for “motorcycle” and in this specific project the subsidized sub-categories are L2e (light tricycles) and L6e (light quadricycles) with a maximum design speed of not more than 45 km/h (28 mph) and, in the case of an electric motor, maximum continuous rated power below 4 kW (5.36 hp).

According to the European Commission, ELVs are seen as valid alternatives to automobiles thanks to their smaller size and lighter weight. Of course this has been the case with almost every motorcycle ever made, yet for the average car driver the issue of safety remains critical.

Motorcycles fall, cars don’t.

This is precisely the reason why the new initiative is aimed at narrow track vehicles with three and four titling wheels, a relatively new category that has proven to be safe and – most important of all – friendly to those unaccustomed to the complex principles of motorcycle dynamic stability. Paying extra attention to the exact wording – "Tilting wheels" and "narrow track" exclude any kind of ATV or UTV from the equation.

The project is also targeting low costs. The brief for the vehicles to be developed requests modular and scalable electric powertrains and battery architectures. With the technology that is available today relatively small batteries are sufficient for the moped-level output of the L2e and L6e categories, allowing for lower costs and faster recharge. Add a modular powertrain and battery pack to be shared by several manufacturers and we’re looking at a serious possibility for cheap electric commuters. Now that could appeal to car drivers.

The Resolve project is coordinated by Piaggio, with the participation of KTM, a number of renowned automotive suppliers (including Bosch and Magneti-Marelli to name the most famous) and several universities from Austria, Czech Republic, England, Italy and Poland. The EU subsidy for this project amounts to €6.9 million, with the biggest shares allocated to the two motorcycle manufacturers, Piaggio (€1.36 million) and KTM (€1.23 million).

According to the official schedule, by May 2018 we should have two L2e and L6e prototype ELVs demonstrating Resolve's goals: three and four wheel tilting narrow track vehicles featuring very low energy consumption, with modular and scalable powertrains and batteries, applicable to a complete range of ELVs (including powered-two wheelers).

Piaggio and KTM have been selected for this project as "the two largest LV manufacturers in the EU" according to the official press release. The Italian company introduced the three-wheeled revolution with the MP3 and currently includes a Hybrid 300ie model in its lineup. KTM on the other hand has had no experience in scooters, but has some experience with electric vehicles having introduced the Freeride electric models last year.

It will be very interesting to see the four wheel model that this project will produce. This is a brand new scooter category and currently there is only one such mass produced model in existence. The Quadro 4 is made in Taiwan by a Swiss company, with a 350 cc scooter engine derived from Taiwan’s Aeon. More intriguing is the fact that the Hydraulic Titling System that is the center feature of the Quadro 4 is designed by the Italian Studio Marabese Design – the same studio that designed the MP3’s tilting wheel system for Piaggio. Sometimes it seems that Europe is just one big family.

Source: EU CORDIS

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