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Electric rickshaws give one of the world’s poorest countries a charge

KATMANDU, Nepal — The streets of this crowded tourist city are like a slow-moving showroom of the auto industry, with packs of buses, cars, taxis and motorbikes chugging along.

But if you take a closer look, you will find that some of the smaller buses have only one front wheel. They have no exhaust, and they don’t chug. Emblazoned with a sign that says “Save Kathmandu,” they are among the smallest and least-familiar models in the world’s growing fleet of electric vehicles: the battery-powered “autorickshaw.”

Nepal has been one of the lowest nations in the rankings of national economic output, but that has not stopped electric vehicles from finding a peculiar niche. Local businesses have already persuaded more than 100,000 commuters in Katmandu to ride the autorickshaws every day as they pick up passengers on designated routes.
Electric rickshaw

Can electric cars and the battery-powered “autorickshaw” resolve Katmandu’s emission problems? Photos by Coco Liu.

Now they’re beginning to push more advanced electric vehicles into the market for the more knowledgeable and well-heeled buyers. A poster in one of the showrooms says: “Do Not Let Petroleum Hold You Back, Go Electricity Today.”

For the 2.5 million people who live in this area, driving electric vehicles will be liberating in more ways than one. Nepal has no native fossil fuels, so every drop of oil used here has to come from India, which drains Nepal’s limited foreign currency.
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