The passengers of a solar-powered tuk tuk stopped at King Edward Park on Monday to admire Newcastle’s coastal views, while passerbys undoubtedly took a squiz of their own at the “ridiculous looking” vehicle parked on the side of the road.
The creators of the three-wheeled, electric and solar-powered rickshaw are driving the vehicle from Melbourne to Cairns.
On Monday afternoon they arrived in Newcastle, with a plan to stick around for the night to talk to interested residents about transport’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and a transition to the use of electric vehicles.
For the Newcastle route of their “expedition”, local Eliza Crosbie is travelling aboard the five-seater tuk tuk. The SolarTuk crew stayed at her parents house in Hamilton overnight.
Logistics manager Hannah Sharp said the curiosity provoked by the vehicle provided a “really good opportunity” to start conversations about environmentally-friendly transport.
“There’s sometimes confusion but always positivity,” Ms Sharp said.
“It’s pretty silly and something a bit fun. Kids love it, they want to see the solar panels, and have a ride in it.”
The tuk tuk was manufactured in Thailand and modified by engineering students at RMIT University in Melbourne.
The small but strange beast runs on a lithium-ion battery, like those found in Tesla cars, powered by the solar panels on its exterior. The car also plugs into an average household power socket for charging overnight.
“For the distances we are going we had to have the option of plugging it in overnight. But wherever we are stopping we make sure they have solar panels on their roof,” Ms Sharp said.
She said that while having solar panels on the outside of a car was not a realistic option for everyday commuters, using an electric vehicle which then plugged into a solar-powered house at night was “more realistic”.
“Just from speaking to people around the place, there is a perception that electric vehicles are not reliable and not capable of driving very far but that is not the case,” she said.
“If it can go the distance to get to the Great Barrier Reef, it can get you to work in the morning.”
Ms Sharp said she believed incentives should be introduced to support the transition away from vehicles powered by fossil fuels.
“Australia doesn’t have any incentive scheme in place to make electric vehicles affordable like when solar panels were introduced. That discourages manufacturers, and keeps them prohibitively expensive for people interested in buying them,” she said.