The reality we're dealing with is that our cities are getting more crowded and more polluted by the day, and it doesn't seem like there's any solution in sight for the immediate future. Electric vehicles are one proposed solution, but they still take up space and require an infrastructure that's far behind the developments of the EV industry.
Electric bicycles are also a possible solution, but they, too, come with downsides, from issues with storage, infrastructure, and the lack of regulation for parts, which has led to an increase in the number of fires caused by them. On an everyday base, few riders would want to get wet in a downpour or arrive to work frozen stiff because bicycles don't provide protection from the elements.
The VM45 is half velomobile because it's a recumbent bike with an enclosed shell. The VM45 is also a mini-EV because it uses a mid-drive 750W motor to move at speeds of up to 45 kph (28 mph), which is more than you could ever get while riding assisted on an electric bicycle in the European Union. EU member states have the speed for e-bikes capped at 25 kph (15.5 mph), so the most common motor option on these machines is the 250W one.
The VM45 rides on four wheels instead of three for maximum stability at this speed and when cornering. Peak power of the motor is 1500W with 130 Nm (95.8 lb-ft) of torque. The Valeo-Cyclee Mid-drive drivetrain features automatic shifting with seven speeds and reverse drive, and a differential that sends power to the rear wheels.
The rider sits recumbent inside the cockpit on an adjustable mesh seat. There's considerable storage space in the back, which gives the VM45 yet another edge over the standard two-wheel e-bike. No matter how many bags or crates you attach to it, you can't beat the comfort of a trunk. Maximum payload is 121 kg (267 lbs), including the rider's weight, while the machine itself tips the scales at 79 kg (174 lbs).
The VM45 comes with front and rear lights, indicators, side mirrors, and a motorcycle horn. The shell is made of composite, with a removable cockpit window for when you want to feel the breeze (and bugs?) on your face. Katanga president Stephane Boving recommends riding the VM45 with a bicycle helmet, though that will probably offer little assistance in a worst-case scenario. There's no mention of how much protection the VM45 body would offer in case of a crash.
And now for the bad news. In this configuration, the VM45 doesn't qualify as an e-bike but as a lightweight on-road quad (L6e-A category), which limits availability because it will require proper certification – though not necessarily a permit in order to ride it. Katanga is considering offering a more accessible, lower-specced 250W version or even a motor-less model that would allow riders to use it on pedal only or to fit it later with a motor of their choice.
Another piece of bad news is in regard to pricing. Katanga estimates an MRSP of €11,000 for the non-motorized model and €13,000 for the motor-assisted VM45, assuming it ever reaches mass production stage. That's $12,000 and $14,300, respectively, at the current exchange rate, and arguably more than you'd pay for any electric bicycle designed for daily use. Or even for a second-hand car, if you're not particular about driving electric.