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Company Builds Electric Three-Wheeler for First Responders

The Arcimoto Rapid Responder is just a little different from most emergency response vehicles. But with possible advantages in operating cost and size, it has three local government agencies on board to test it out.

It has three wheels. It tops out at 75 miles per hour. It’s 100 percent electric. Will police and fire departments go for it?

Arcimoto, a 12-year-old electric vehicle company based in Oregon, announced its Rapid Responder design Feb. 15. The three-wheel vehicle is based on a similar design the company has dubbed its “Fun Utility Vehicle,” and it has agreements from three local government agencies to test them out.

Those would be the city of Eugene, Ore., the Eugene Springfield Fire Department and the city of Eastvale, Calif. The company’s marketing leans more toward fire and medical response than police — the photos it released to the press are of a vehicle in front of a Eugene fire station, and on the back it has a medical kit and fire extinguisher.

That may be just as well. There hasn’t been a lot of history of police departments using electric vehicles; the Los Angeles Police Department signed up to use a couple hundred electric BMWs in 2015 and then apparently barely used them. And while the Rapid Responder’s top speed of 75 mph compares favorably to any bicycle, it pales in comparison to the most popular police vehicles and motorcycles.

A fire truck, on the other hand, is a hulking beast difficult to operate safely above 68 mph — if it’s not full of water.

The vehicle has an estimated 100-mile range and would take 4-8 hours to charge.

Arcimoto President Mark Frohnmayer said in a press release that the vehicle will be useful for emergency responders working in dense urban corridors. Bryan Jones, Eastvale’s city manager, pointed out that since electricity is cheaper than gas and diesel, it could save money.

“They are electric, quiet, and air-quality friendly, which is important for the greater Inland Empire Basin,” he said in the statement. “They can be run on solar power from Southern California’s plentiful sunshine, and they don’t require us to fill up on gas, so it will reduce operating costs. I could see these would be great for first responders during special events or medical calls when a fire engine may not be required.”

There are also environmental goals to consider. With many cities looking to cut greenhouse gas emissions wherever they can, many have started considering the gas-guzzling fleets of emergency response departments. San Francisco Fire Department, for example, has been running a biodiesel program since 2006.

“In addition to our current fleet of engines, we see the advantage of a highly efficient, small-footprint vehicle to help with low-acuity calls, and the potential to reduce operational costs, while being better for the environment,” said Joe Zaludek, chief of Eugene Springfield Fire Departments. “We also think the Rapid Responder will have the added benefit of being a real hit at the annual Christmas Light Firetruck Parade.”

The company expects to have the vehicle in production and ready for delivery sometime in 2020.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.