KTM and Piaggio receive EU funding to develop electric four-wheelers
The European Union is encouraging the development of modular electric vehicles that car drivers will find attractive for urban commuting under aninitiative called Range of Electric Solution L-category Vehicles (Resolve). The public release ofthis 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.
Europeanroads 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 insearch of a solution, employing measures such as restricting access to the citycenter (Rome, Athens), enforcing congestion charges (London) or even designingthe city to be hostile towards cars (Amsterdam). Whichever the course ofaction, in most cases crossing the city’s center by car usually means wasting timeinversely proportional to the distance covered.
TheEuropean Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers (ACEM or Association des ConstructeursEuropéens de Motocycles – the official name in French) has long campaignedfor two-wheelers as the solution to congestion, achieving the occasionalconcession – exemption from congestion charges, unlimited access to citycenters, legally riding 50 cc two-wheelers with a car license. Yet none ofthese efforts seem to have made any significant difference – motorcycle sales in Europe still amountto just a fraction of automobile sales and congestion is ever present.
Enter Resolve. This project has been designed under the Horizon 2020 innovationprogram, an €80 billion (US$87 billion) initiative aimed at securing Europe'sglobal competitiveness. Resolve intends to enable the development of cost-effective,energy efficient Electric L-category Vehicles (ELV) with the primary target ofattracting car drivers to switch to ELVs for daily urban commutes. The “L-category” is EU textbooktechnical jargon for “motorcycle” and in this specific project the subsidizedsub-categories are L2e (light tricycles) and L6e (light quadricycles) with amaximum design speed of not more than 45 km/h (28 mph) and, in the caseof an electric motor, maximum continuous rated power below 4 kW (5.36 hp).
Accordingto the European Commission, ELVs are seen as valid alternatives to automobilesthanks to their smaller size and lighter weight. Of course this has been thecase with almost every motorcycle ever made, yet for the average car driver theissue of safety remains critical.
Motorcycles fall, cars don’t.
This is preciselythe reason why the new initiative is aimed at narrow track vehicles with three and four titlingwheels, a relatively new category that has proven to be safe and –most important of all – friendly to those unaccustomed to the complex principlesof 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 developedrequests modular and scalable electric powertrains and batteryarchitectures. With the technology that is available today relatively smallbatteries are sufficient for the moped-level output of the L2e and L6ecategories, allowing for lower costs and faster recharge. Add a modularpowertrain and battery pack to be shared by several manufacturers and we’relooking at a serious possibility for cheap electric commuters. Now that couldappeal to car drivers.
The Resolveproject is coordinated by Piaggio, with the participation of KTM, a number of renownedautomotive suppliers (including Bosch and Magneti-Marelli to name the mostfamous) and several universities from Austria, Czech Republic, England, Italyand Poland. The EU subsidy for this project amounts to €6.9 million, with the biggest shares allocated to the two motorcyclemanufacturers, Piaggio (€1.36 million) and KTM (€1.23 million).
Accordingto the official schedule, by May 2018 we should have two L2e and L6e prototype ELVsdemonstrating Resolve's goals: three and four wheel tilting narrowtrack vehicles featuring very low energy consumption, with modular and scalablepowertrains and batteries, applicable to a complete range of ELVs (includingpowered-two wheelers).
Piaggio andKTM have been selected for this project as "the two largest LV manufacturers inthe EU" according to the official press release. The Italian company introducedthe three-wheeled revolution with the MP3 and currently includes a Hybrid 300iemodel in its lineup. KTM on the other hand has had no experience in scooters,but has some experience with electric vehicles having introduced the Freerideelectric models last year.
It will bevery 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 massproduced 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 thefact that the Hydraulic Titling System that is the center feature of the Quadro4 is designed by the Italian Studio Marabese Design – the same studio thatdesigned the MP3’s tilting wheel system for Piaggio. Sometimes it seems that Europeis just one big family.