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Is this the new face of tuk-tuks in Cambodia?

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The new three-wheeled tuk-tuks, which come from India, are made in factories and equipped with fire extinguishers and come in yellow, black and green. Photograph: Roth Meas/Phnom Penh Post

Smaller, faster and made in India – meet the new-look that has hit the streets of Phnom Penh. A group of the dark green, yellow or black and three-wheeled tuk-tuks is on the roads in the city on a mission to convert drive.

More fuel-efficient than the traditional Cambodian vehicle and equipped with fire extinguishers and spare wheels, the new factory-made tuk-tuks are being touted as the maintainable alternative to local, hand-made vehicles.

Two months ago, an Indian compan, Bajaj Viper Auto, the world’s third-largest manufacturer of motorbikes, exported their business to the country with an offshoot called Viper Auto Cambodia.

They have brought the first 20 new tuk-tuks to Cambodia and at the end of this month, they will import more with the intention of replacing local tuk-tuks.

Pen Sopheak, the administrator in charge of imports at Vipar Auto Cambodia, said that the new tuk-tuks are safer than the locally made version.

“Local tuk-tuks cannot brake to stop in three metres if they are running fast. But our tuk-tuk can do so because it has the same brakes as a car,” Sopheak said.

But the vehicle is unlikely to fit more than two passengers, unlike local tuk-tuks which can carry four easily and even five or six at a push.

Sopheak said that passengers will find the new tuk-tuks more comfortable, although there is not much space for tourists to stow luggage.

Vipar Auto Cambodia keeps its 20 tuk-tuks at Stueng Meanchey commune, where the further 20 will also be kept when they arrive. Seven have already been sold to drivers.

During the current promotion they will be sold for $2,500 US dollars but after it finishes he’ll sell them for $3,000.

He has also sent some of the tuk-tuks to Siem Reap province where he believes the high levels of tourists means there will be a strong demand.

But tuk-tuk drivers who have tested the new stock say that imported tuk-tuks are unlikely to replace the local vehicles.

Sok Vichet, 45, who has driven tuk-tuks in Phnom Penh for three years, said that people will prefer the local tuk-tuks, which can carry four passengers with some luggage comfortably.

“They brought those ‘Indian tuk-tuks’ to display next to us and asked us to try. I decided that it would not be better than local tuk-tuks. Our tuk-tuk is higher, larger, and able to carry more people,” he said.

The new tuk-tuks are almost double the price of the cheapest vehicles sold locally. Drivers say the price is not a problem, but the fact that the new vehicles are produced abroad will deter sales.

Sok Vichet said that none of his friends who also work as drivers has changed to the Indian make. He believes that local tuk-tuks attract tourists because they were locally produced, and are part of the national identity.

“I’m sure some foreigners who come to Cambodia would like to try the vehicles invented by local people, so I don’t think I’ll change mine to the imported one,” he said.

The new tuk-tuks are more expensive but can go faster, and consume less gas.

The imported tuk-tuks, the RE145D model, is a two passenger carrier, with four foward gears and four reverse gears. Running on petrol, it has an average speed of about 55 kilometers per hour. On one litre of gasoline it can travel up to 45 kilometres.

Local tuk-tuks are cheaper, usually sold for between $1,600 and $2,500. They have only one brake, can drive at up to 40 kilometres per hour and guzzle a great deal of petrol – between 20 and 30 kilometres per litre.

They were converted from the longer carts pulled by motorbike known as remmorks.

The word tuk-tuk is likely to have been brought over from Thailand.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roth Meas at ppp.lifestyle@gmail.com

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