ITALY has had one solution for highfuel prices for almost 60 years. Now, withthe Costa Rican government hunting for away to reduce the country’s reliance onincreasingly expensive fuel, that solution– affordable, lightweight and gas efficientLight Transportation Vehicles (LTV)– has finally arrived in Costa Rica.The Piaggio Group, an Italian companythat manufactures LTVs, developed theonly model available in Costa Rica, theApe, in 1948. The Ape, which is 9.5 feetlong, 5 feet wide and 5.6 feet tall, is asmall, three-wheeled, street-legal commercialvehicle that can haul up to 1,323pounds and travel up to 80 miles on onlyone gallon of diesel.“It is based mechanically on a motorcycle,so it has the operation cost of amotorcycle, but the utility of a smalltruck,” explained Jaime Freer, generalmanager of the exclusive Piaggio distributorin Costa Rica, Automotores Livianosde Centroamérica.Apes are specifically designed forcountries with economic difficulties andare credited with greatly aiding the regenerationof commercial activities in postwarItaly. They have been successful inmany parts of Asia, Africa and LatinAmerica, while selling in disappointingnumbers in the United States.“WE have only been open two months(in Costa Rica), but unlike other units on themarket, this is a product that has more than50 years of experience and has been hugelysuccessful,” Freer said. “Timing couldn’t bebetter, because of the gasoline crisis.”Apes and other LTVs, such as the Vespaand four-wheeled Quargo, will becomemuch more widely available in Costa Ricawithin the next decade, according to Freer.Not only are these vehicles inexpensive,starting at $5,000, but their fuel efficiencyalso gives them “the lowest cost of operationof any vehicle in the country,” Freer said.While Apes have many of the featuresof a car, they do not share all its characteristicsand accordingly come with restrictions,such as a maximum speed of 31miles per hour and a suggested radius ofoperation of 10 km.According to Freer, Apes’ restrictionsmake them ideal for use in the downtownarea of any city or coastal community. Hesays that Apes, which can hold one to fivepassengers depending on the model, will beuseful in Costa Rica for distribution companies,small businesses and personal use.“The Apes with passenger seating willalso be very useful in the area of tourism,”said Olman Murrillo, a salesman atAutomotores Livianos de Centroamérica.WITH 34 different bodies to choosefrom, anything from a fruit stand to a smallauto-repair shop could be operated out of thevehicle’s bed.“It is a highly sophisticated and versatiletool. It is the Swiss army knife of LTVs,”Freer told the Tico Times.Automotores Livianos, in La Uruca,northwest of San José, is the only Piaggiodistributor where LTV Apes are available.However, plans are in place to open storesin Liberia, the capital of the northwesternprovince of Guanacaste; Jacó, on theCentral Pacific coast; San Isidro, near thePacific port of Puntarenas; and San Carlos,in north-central Costa Rica, next year.The company’s long-term plans includeexpansion to Panama and Nicaragua.For more information visit the company’sWeb site at www.piaggiogroup.comor www.livianos.com.