Indian engineer prepares solar tuk-tuk for London odyssey

Mon Jul 14, 2014 1:41am EDT
 
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By Swetha Gopinath

BANGALORE (Reuters) - 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 customized three-wheeler all the way to London.

Rabelli will leave India next year on a 6,000-mile (9,600-km) 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.

Since quitting his job with Reva, a unit of Indian car maker Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd that makes electric vehicles, Rabelli has spent two years tinkering with his second-hand tuk-tuk.

Equipped with a new motor, battery and gearbox, the bright red vehicle - named Tejas, a Sanskrit word meaning splendor or brilliance - now bears little resemblance to the sputtering, diesel-fueled 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 $6,000. 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.   Continued...

 
Raoul Kopacka, a 26-year old Austrian, sits along with Naveen Rabelli (unseen) from India inside a tuk tuk in the southern Indian city of Bangalore July 9, 2014.  REUTERS/Stringer