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By David Rooney on

Is This The End Of The Auto?

An article in the Guardian last week reported that the tens of thousands of autorickshaws on the streets of India’s capital city, New Delhi, might be phased out, replaced (perhaps) by electric vehicles.

I mentioned autorickshaws a while ago. We have a very nice example, by major Indian maker Bajaj, in our store at Wroughton

Bajaj autorickshaw, 1982 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

These vehicles have a long history, being based on motor scooters introduced by makers such as Piaggio in the 1940s and 50s. This scene on our Making the Modern World learning website has more.

The scooter’s integrated motor and drive train, linked directly to the back wheel, lent itself readily to conversion into the stretched three-wheel autorickshaw, with this early Piaggio ‘Vespa’, on show in our Making the Modern World gallery, showing the simplicity of the design:

Piaggio 'Vespa', 1948 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Autorickshaws fill an important gap in the urban vehicle mix, between two-wheelers (nimble, but not ideal for carrying goods) and small cars or vans (better carrying-capacity but bigger, heavier and thirstier). Autorickshaws can haul a surprising amount, but without the footprint of bigger vehicles.

These small, simple motorized three-wheelers, often simply called ‘autos’, give mobility to countless people, as well as offering earning opportunities to some of the world’s poor.

Any withdrawal would have to be phased over a long period, as currently there doesn’t seem to be a viable alternative. It will be interesting to see how the Delhi situation develops.