Photo by Per Kårehed
What’s the big idea?
Okay, it’s basically an electric-powered, three-wheeled rickshaw for a driver and two passengers. At 230kg, it is six times lighter than a medium-sized car and uses seven per cent of the energy. It can travel near-silently up to 50km on one battery charge, at a maximum speed of about 45kph.
How did it come about?
Founder Göran Folkesson has worked as an electrical engineer in the automotive industry his whole career, including stints at Volvo and an arm of IBM that creates software for cars and aircraft. He says the idea had been in the back of his head for 20 years: “I thought it was absurd that we use this huge, 1.5-tonne machine for everyday transport. A huge portion of trips are only a few kilometres with a single passenger.”
What happened next?
In 2007, Folkesson started to make concrete plans for a lightweight, zero-emission vehicle. “My early sketches were basically a micro car on four wheels,” he says, “but it was a real challenge to get the weight down.”
Is a “Eureka!” moment coming?
It sure is. Folkesson was in Mumbai in 2008 and saw autorickshaws everywhere. “I realised that, first of all, Mumbai’s traffic would be a disaster if these nimble rickshaws were replaced by cars. Secondly, it occurred to me that no one’s really made an effort to engineer the rickshaw since the first Piaggio design in 1948 – Mumbai’s autorickshaws were heavy (400kg), crudely engineered and polluting because of these horrible two-stroke engines.”
Enter the Zbee…
Folkesson formed the Clean Motion company in Gothenburg in 2009, and set about a design that was, in his words, “simple, clean, lean and safer than anything in its class,” using the best available technology. Most of the engineering and manufacturing is outsourced, and Clean Motion has just five full-time employees in Gothenburg, with more in Indonesia and India. Folkesson adds, “We don’t want to replace the family car; we want the Zbee to be the second car, the one you use to do the groceries and drop the kids off.”
So where can I get one?
A limited number have been made available in Sweden, costing €9,000 (NOK74,000), but it’s not widely available yet. When we spoke, the first of a batch being made in Indonesia was coming off the factory floor. “We think the Zbee will be a natural fit in temperate countries and emerging markets,” says Folkesson, who also plans to launch the Zbee in India before expanding to other parts of Asia. He also hopes to have an impact on Europe. “In five years, we hope to have factories in Spain and Italy, and to have made a real mark on cities like Delhi and Jakarta.”