Now here's an idea that's about as environmentally-friendly as they come: an electric, human-powered hybrid (HEHV).
Yes, it does kind of have that primitive Flintstones ring to it. But one company has already proven that such a car can be perfectly serviceable for those who don't mind putting in some peddling. The TWIKE, developed by the German firm Fine Mobile, is a three-wheel two-seater that's not only street legal in America and Europe, but also available for a little more than $20,000. It's been on the market for nearly 20 years and has just celebrated the completion of it's 1,000th vehicle.
The TWIKE is as ambitious of a concept today as it was back when it first became that rare oddity in a world dominated by gas-guzzlers. Taking it on a road trip can be tricky and even requires completing a training course to obtain a special driver's license. Instead of a standard steering wheel, navigating the car is done through a joystick. Beneath the driver's feet is the direct drive pedal power system, which transfers input straight to the drivetrain. The system also captures energy from regenerative braking.
At higher speeds, the vehicle is powered mostly by onboard lithium ion batteries. And even when the driver is breaking a sweat, it's very difficult to stay on highways for a significant amount of time without quickly needing to pull into a recharging station. Top speed is around 55 miles per hour, though some enthusiasts have reported speeds in the 65 mph range.
The website Treehugger recently visited the TWIKE plant in Germany to explore the pros and cons of getting around using a partially man-powered car. After a test drive, here's a rough breakdown of what they found:
Möscheid enthuses that the best way to drive a TWIKE is to pedal just below a sweat-inducing speed. In the city, where cars can move barely faster than bicycle speed, the TWIKE finds its element. Driver and passenger arrive at their destination exhilarated but not stinky; range extends to up to 200 km (124 miles) at such lower speeds.
But with any vehicle that doesn't use gas, strategic charging is necessity:
Möscheid explains how he uses the LEMnet to identify recharge points along his planned route. He looks for a refueling point about every 125 km (75 miles) for a sufficient safety net to ensure the TWIKE does not run out of power in the still sparse landscape of EV-charging opportunities.
By now, you can see why something like a TWIKE, though appealing on many levels, isn't suitable as a reliable all-purpose vehicle. And to be frank, the reason many people opt for cars is so that they can get to places without having to do more than pressing on the gas pedal. If there is a place for human-assisted hybrids, it would be for traveling to destinations that are too far for bicycling but not far enough to require a recharge. Kind of like how you shouldn't use a plastic butter knife to cut cheese, though you wouldn't need a meat cleaver either.
But for the die-hard hypermilers out there, go ahead and pedal to your heart's delight.