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29 August 2012

Piaggio goes Ape; Offers cheapest diesel on the market

Words by Niky Tamayo | Photos by Christopher Kho
Perhaps one of the most unusual displays at the 4th Philippine International Motor Show (PIMS) is the Ape three-wheeler. It’s aptly named, as there is something monkey-ish about the thing. A product of Piaggio, the Ape was designed in Italy specifically for the Indian market. Being a Piaggio product, it obviously shares some architecture with the famed scooter line that spawned the Vespa, with a scooter front end mated to a robust swing axle rear. It’s available in a variety of forms, from dropside to closed van to auto-rickshaw. While most people wouldn’t get up in a blather over a motorcycle-based three-wheel delivery vehicle, given the ready availability of local and Chinese conversions, the APE has something these two-stroke wonders don’t: A diesel engine.
Maybe it’s not the most appealing of cars, with its cramped cabin and scooter-based controls. Rear swing axles won’t inspire confidence, either, for anyone familiar with old VW Beetles. But this is not a sports car. It’s a low speed urban delivery vehicle built specifically for business. And it costs less than a Segway.
The Ape is powered by a simple and robust 435cc single cylinder diesel engine. Equipped with direct injection, and without a turbocharger, it produces just 8 horsepower and 18 Nm of torque. While that may not seem like a lot of power, that’s in the same ballpark as the 250cc gasoline engines powering tricycle cargo conversions. And unlike those carbureted motors, which achieve a “measly” 20km/l or so, the diesel APE is expected to achieve economy figures of around 36 km/l. Take into account the difference in gasoline and diesel prices, and that works out to on-the-road savings of over 50% versus motorcycle deliveries and over 80% versus your typical refurbished Multi-Cab style delivery.
But the Ape is not just a delivery vehicle. Autohub President Willy Tee Tan envisions the APE as empowering local entrepreneurs. The Ape comes in a number of configurations, including an ice cream truck, soft drink delivery van, mobile sari-sari store, passenger service, and this, a food cart on wheels made by Atoy Customs. There’s even a basic cab-and-chassis configuration, which allows local builders to fashion their own bodies for it. 
Despite carrying the Piaggio name, the Ape is assembled in India, which makes it relatively cheap compared to other Piaggio products. Granted, the P200 to 220 thousand price may still seem a bit steep compared to your typical brand new motorcycle and side-car, which retail for around P150 thousand, but the rudimentary weather protection, flexibility and expected longevity of the Ape versus a tricycle, whose frame tends to sag after a few months of being used as a cargo delivery, make it an interesting proposition.
And let’s not forget. Diesel. Diesel makes everything better.