Affordable 150-MPG Plug-in Hybrid for the Disabled

“Instead of making a $110,000 car, we’re trying to do this for $24,000.”

John Giljam, inventor of the Biotrike plug-in hybrid

Proving that the global economic crisis can’t thwart the American entrepreneurial spirit, the South Carolina-based maker of amphibious vehicles is building a three-wheeled plug-in diesel hybrid. According to inventor John Giljam, the vehicle will have an all-electric range of 50 miles before using any liquid fuel. Based on testing of a pure diesel version that achieves more than 65 mpg, Giljam said, “We would be getting 130 to 150 miles to the gallon with the plug-in hybrid model.”

Giljam said the vehicle will essentially be an electric car—using six conventional 12-volt lead-acid batteries that will be charged by a 1.6-liter diesel engine to extend the range of the vehicle. The same plug-in series hybrid design is being used by General Motors for the much-ballyhooed Chevy Volt.

“Instead of making a $110,000 car, we’re trying to do this for $24,000,” said Giljam, referring to luxury plug-in vehicles such as the Tesla Roadster and Fisker Karma. “We feel that there is a huge market for simpler vehicles that are cost effective.” Giljam said that the first prototype—a version built specifically for people with physical disabilities—will be ready by the end of June.

In an exclusive interview with, Giljam was asked how he would be able to handle the complexities and cost of managing the battery system, electric drivetrain, and diesel engine. He laughed and responded, “That’s what I have in my patents that I keep hidden.” Giljam said that the onboard computer would cost about $200.

Giljam’s company Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International—which has been building half-car-half-boat vehicles for 10 years—was until recently planning to only produce diesel-power versions of the “Biotrike.” The company’s website still explains that the Biotrike will not be a hybrid because “battery technology has to catch up some to the market as they are very expensive.” But Giljam recently became convinced that he could build his next prototype—the “handicapped” version—using the plug-in hybrid technology.

The diesel-only model that was previously in the works—the B3X2 which seats two people, one in front of the other—was priced at $24,000. The company plans to offer the plug-in diesel hybrid version at the same cost, and also has plans to produce a four-seat model for $30,000. The company, which has manufacturing facilities in South Lima, NY, and Ridgeland, S.C., is gearing up to produce 10,000 vehicles a year by 2011, according to Giljam.

The Biotrike in New York City

ABC’s Good Morning America featured the Biotrike on Nov. 25, 2008. That was before inventor John Giljam decided to make the vehicle a plug-in hybrid.

For safety, the Biotrike uses a steel tubular roll cage running along the bottom and sides, with three roll bars overhead, not dissimilar to the Smart Car’s cabin and the one used in the Aptera 2e—also a 100+ mpg three-wheel vehicle. Unlike the Aptera, the Biotrike is capable of receiving service at the local fast food drive-in window.

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  • Anonymous

    Direct price comparisons aren’t always valid. $24,000 is a good (NOT great) price for a PHEV that REPLACES a general purpose gasoline vehicle, like a Camry, Focus, etc. The BioTrike, while an interesting looking piece of technology, might be able to replace some or even most of the functionality of a mid or compact sedan, but by no means all of that functionality.

    That means that other than a novelty, except for a very few buyers this vehicle would have to be a supplemental vehicle to the average household “fleet”. Thus, rather than just the difference between the target $24k price tag and the average $15k-$20k of a normal car, the premium on this vehicle (in most cases) is actually the full $24k price tag.

    Not that I don’t think it has it’s place. I could see a two car family with a small SUV and a sedan replacing the sedan with one of these, perhaps — although the tradeoff would be that some trips for which the sedan would have been suitable but the BioTrike would not would have to be handed off to the SUV.

    Maybe also as part of a rental fleet. Speaking for myself, when I rent a car for business travel, it is always to shuttle me and my briefcase between airport, hotel, and work site. Partnering with a rental company could also help foster adoption, because a rental car is far more likely to be used for intracity use than intercity, meaning that you wouldn’t depend on as extensive a charging infrastructure. IE the availability of charge points in, say, Tampa is far less important if you’re renting an EV in Orlando than if you’re buying one there.

  • Dan L

    My first impression is that this guy is more of a cheat than an innovator.

    The motivation for producing a three wheeled vehicle is purely artificial: A weaker set of safety regulations apply. Finding a motorcycle that gets 65mpg is not difficult.

    He says that the diesel version gets 65mpg, but the plugin hybrid version will get between 130 and 150 mpg. It will use lead-acid batteries. That is extremely suspicious. Perhaps he is counting only the fuel in the tank in the mileage calculation, not the electricity in the batteries?

    Finally, there is no such thing as a hidden patent. If this guy is claiming to have hidden patents, I suspect he doesn’t know the difference between patents and trade secrets. In which case, he probably has neither.

    Has anyone researched this guy?

  • JON

    It looks a lot like the Buckminster Fuller’s body shape and 3 wheel design. I hope poeple don’t become afraid of this car like they did Bucky’s!!

  • Dobelover

    This looks like a death trap to me.

    Why is it that the main stream media has hyperfocused on safety in regular cars and trucks for decades, yet manages to “forget” when they are looking at tiny cars and novelty vehicles?

  • Calvin

    130 mpg means the electricity is free. There is not much technical innovation about electric vehicles – it is the energy storage/battery or capacitor that matters. You can do a 2-wheel, 3-wheel, 4-wheel, or whatever-wheel electric vehicle if the energy storage issue is solved. This electric “car” is actually a motorcycle alternative.

  • AP

    Dobelover, you are exactly right. Somehow, its being electric makes it exempt. With the right aero design, something like this could get 100+ MPG on gasoline.

    Anyway, Messerchmitt made something just like this from 1953 – 1964.

  • ACAgal

    As a prior user of a wheelchair (now recovered), I wonder how one transfers from that car to a wheelchair? It does not look suitable to the needs of those with a lower extremity disability.

    Having transported disabled, I need to see more than what is currently shown. I see no strong supports as needed to help in the transfer, the vehicle looks too fragile, close to the ground and with no consideration for actual physical limitations.

    Making something cheap does not mean it fits the needs of those who are temporarily injured or with a life long disability.

  • enzo

    i worked for this guy. i have so many stories…

  • mollytherealdeal

    Come on, enzo. Can you share at least one? And if you can not share, at least tell if you believe this vehicle is worth buying or the death trap that the skeptics on this page suspect that it is.

  • estewart

    ACAgal…. the handicap version of the biotrike would have been of big help to you
    It uses an electric wheelchair ramp, you ride right on in, and the wheelchair clamps down in position. The driver uses hand controls to drive the vehicle. The “door” is also electrified. And there is remote control for all that.

    There is a regular four passenger model, and it is this wider bodied one that is used to accommodate wheelchair users, for a driver and one passenger. Since the passenger’s seat folds up, that allots good room for maneuvering the wheelchair.

    A wheelchair version is also alternately available for one passenger that uses a wheelchair, instead of for the driver.

    THE cost of 35k could seem steep, but an equally equipped van is double that price, unless you can find a cheap used one… which gives you 8 mph. Whew!

    Personally, I don’t think it looks any where as good as the company’s cars that can be operated also as a boat. BUT the images are of the prototype, so the release model may be lots better.