The electric car landscape is largely devoid of pure playthings. Automakers and legislators have primarily focused on greenlighting EVs that replace conventional gasoline-powered cars for daily use. You know, serious cars with an environmental mission. Take a look at the Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf or even Audi’s e-tron. These are noble EVs, built to handle the chores of daily life without producing any tailpipe emissions.
But why not own an EV that has only one job — make you smile every time you climb behind the wheel. The $35,000 Vanderhall Edison2 is just such a machine. Vanderhall Motor Works has been building three-wheeled autocycles since 2015. The original Venice and Carmel models were equipped with gas-powered four-cylinder engines, and Vanderhall makes updated versions of both. But the Edison2 is new and purely electric. And we had a chance to pilot one for an afternoon, zipping through the canyons high above Beverly Hills, California.
Cars simply cannot capture the open-air joy of riding a motorcycle, but three-wheeled autocycles come close. And Vanderhall’s machines are loads of fun. They’re unique because they house the engine up front and drive the front wheels. The Edison2 retains the layout but the powertrain is purely electric.
Behind that grill is a fully-electric powertrain with twin 52 kW motors. (Photo: Vanderhall)
Vanderhall partnered with EV pioneer Zero Motorcycles, a company that’s been building electric bikes for more than ten years, to supply components. So, each front wheel is powered by one of Zero’s 70-hp (52-kW) motors for a total of two. A rubber belt and gear reduction gets the power to the ground on each side. A 28.8-kWh battery pack lives up front between the motors and is good for 200 miles of range if the Edison2 is driven with a careful right foot. Drive it hard and that number will drop to around 130 miles. Zip down the freeway at a constant 80 mph and Vanderhall says the Edison2 may run out of juice in less than 100 miles.
Why not add a bigger battery pack for increased range? Weight. Unlike just about any other vehicle, the electric version actually weighs less (by 75 pounds) than the gas one does. The Edison2 checks in at a mere 1,400 pounds. So, maintaining the weight meant the spring rates didn’t have to change. More importantly, keeping that weight low meant this electric trike would be just as athletic as the gas ones. And that’s a very good thing.
This Edison2 may look just like the original Venice and Carmel models but they are not the same vehicles. In fact, every 2020 Vanderhall model uses a revised chassis and fresh bodywork with a slightly more bulbous nose. The pushrod front suspension now uses A-arms designed and built in-house instead of modified GM components. That, Vanderhall says, saves a total of 13 pounds. The single-sided swingarm in the rear is retained from the previous models. And it’s all slowed down by huge 13-inch Brembo brakes.
It takes the team in Vanderhall’s Provo, Utah factory 300 – 400 hours to assemble one of their machines. And workers are churning out about six of them per day.
Unless you have a daily yoga practice, it’s a little tricky to climb into a Vanderhall. Here’s the procedure: slide your left foot into the pedal box while grabbing the steering wheel with your left hand. Stabilize yourself by putting your right hand on the passenger headrest and then slide your right foot down to the brake pedal and your posterior into the saddle. Whew! It’s actually easier than it sounds. Vanderhall’s new chassis provides an additional 4 inches of width in the cabin, but it’s still a snug fit for two adults in the six-foot-tall range. Shoulders will be rubbing.
The Edison2’s interior is modern and sporty. (Photo: Vanderhall)
I drove the Vanderhall Venice back in 2017 and specifics about that experience are flooding back to me. I remember the cool retro gauges and the wood rimmed steering wheel. But that stuff isn’t here. The Edison2 has a more modern wheel and fewer instruments, just a speedometer, a battery range gauge and a regen gauge. I’d certainly like to see a digital gauge letting me know how many miles I have before the battery is depleted.
Lower the E-brake lever, slide the shifter to drive and the Edison2 moves out well. It doesn’t have the immediate rocket-like thrust of some EVs. And that’s because is Vanderhall limits the full torque output of these motors available from rest—otherwise they’d snap drive belts. The team tried a stronger chain drive but the noise was just too much. So Vanderhall electronically dials back the torque.
Edison2’s potent powertrain makes it fun to cruise the city streets or twisty canyon roads. (Photo: Vanderhall)
Even with the torque-limiting, the Edison2 is quick. And full power comes on strong somewhere between 20-30 mph and it feels great — almost turbo-like in the way the power ramps up. It’s plenty but again not, say, Tesla quick. The other thing is that these electric motors are noisy. They howl and whine more than the motors in most production EVs. Vanderhall says the motors are air-cooled so they couldn’t mask the noise by enclosing them. Back out of the throttle and I can feel the regen working. But this isn’t what I’d call “one pedal” driving. That experience is eventually coming in the form of a six-position regen shift lever mounted to the sill.
I forget all about the noise as we carve into the canyons high above Beverly Hills. The great thing about the Edison2 is that it’s so light and nimble that even at fairly mundane speeds, I’m having fun in this thing. Any speed I’m travelling is amplified because I’m sitting so low and I’m so exposed to the environment. Pile on the power and dive into a tight right-hander. The Edison2 hangs on mightily with excellent grip. Vanderhall says the Edison2 is inherently stable because so much of the weight is over the front wheels. And it definitely feels that way. Carry too much speed and those Brembos have plenty of bite to stop this thing quickly before I even get into the ABS. The steering is assisted but I mistake it for a manual setup because there’s so much information at my fingertips. Most cars unfortunately filter all that goodness out of the experience. And unlike many high-performance vehicles, the ride is smooth.
My hour-log romp in the hills drains little from the battery pack. Vanderhall says a full recharge from a fully depleted battery takes around 4 hours on a Level II charger and approaches 18 hours using a conventional 110V wall outlet.
The sleek Edison2 is just the first in a family of new Vanderhall EVs. (Photo: Vanderhall)
Vanderhall is betting on EVs. That’s why the Edison2 is just the first of two more (so far) they have planned. Up next will be the Edison4. That will be an Edison2 that wears all the luxury trappings of the company’s flagship Carmel model. Expect that one to sticker for around $45,000. But the most interesting model will be the Edison1 — an entry-level machine that we hear will feature battery swapping. Imagine a scenario where a user could simply travel to a specified center to exchange a drained battery for a fresh one. That eliminates the charge time and could make it a more palatable transportation solution for younger drivers. The future seems bright at Vanderhall.