The Chevy Volt of Bangladesh


While we here in Dubai just witnessed the launch of the first road-legal electric car, the Fisker Karma for Dhs 500,000, and General Motors is still testing their Chevrolet Volt here for ages, poor countries like Bangladesh took the green initiative years ago. What you see here is the main mode of “baby” taxi transportation in my ancestral hometown of Barisal in Bangladesh. It’s built locally. And it’s fully electric.

It’s made of largely straight metal body panels, with three wheels and motorcycle-style controls. There are two main gauges, one showing speed and the other showing charge. In our “scooter”, the speedo was stuck at 30 kph and the charge was at 90% by afternoon. Interesting considering it probably topped out at 30 kph anyway, just marginally slower than proper cars that never drive above 50 kph there since they have to mingle with bicycles, stray animals and pedestrians. We hear the charge goes for an entire day before having to be plugged in overnight. Reverse gear is a twist-knob under the driver’s seat. And it has no suspension whatsoever.

It’s got padded seats that fit a driver and two passengers in “comfort”, or even four passengers in a pinch because the ingenious driver’s seatback can fold flat backwards and become a rear bench.

We didn’t drive it, but there wasn’t any need to. We felt it all. The lack of suspension on potholed streets meant we were afraid of biting our own tongues off by mistake, as the entire metal box violently rattled its way down the road. The electric powertrain on one taxi was humming so noisily that we could hardly have a conversation, but we rode in another one that had a relatively quiet motor, although the rest of it still rattled noisily. Only a few of them actually have headlights or tail lights, though most have a single rear-view mirror mounted at random places.

These things probably cost less than an iPhone to build, and provides cheap clean public transportation that costs Dhs 10 an hour, which is what we negotiated for an hour of sightseeing. Unfortunately this will never work in Dubai, because obviously we do a lot more than 30 kph on our highways, except when there’s a traffic jam. Even fat-tyred golf-carts are way more comfortable than these rust-buckets. But it was great to see a self-sufficient poor country take the initiative and build their own green public transportation, creating jobs in the process as well, while Chevrolet is bragging about changing the world with their expensive Volt electric car “for the masses”.

4 comments to The Chevy Volt of Bangladesh

  • Xalan Mustafa

    They are known as “TOMTOM” too. I remember my journey to a deserted sanctuary which was 100kms out of any human lively hood when this ride unfortunately slowed choking down to death. Army from the check points saved the day with their Bushanab.

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  • Fazley

    i was in dhaka for the eid vacation. really love this TomTom :)

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  • Mir Shahriar Ahmed

    Loved the article…

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  • Tariq

    Hilarious and informative as always…Keep up the good work.. I have seen these tom-toms in Chittagong and have to say they make a massive difference when compared to the conventional auto rickshaws…I guess the only downside is you are never guaranteed a proper charge due the regular load-sheddings (electricity cuts…”Yes,such things happen…”

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