Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Cheap Chinese electric cars are coming to the US and Europe (qz.com)
291 points by prostoalex 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 230 comments





These seem like utility (landscaping) grade golf carts that are already a market in the US. Available in mostly gas, but some electric forms.

https://www.deere.com/en/gator-utility-vehicles/

https://www.toro.com/en/sports-fields-municipalities/utility...

https://www.catresourcecenter.com/machine/landscaping/utilit...


I just don't get it. a John Deere Gator with two seats and 4 wheels, and not much else costs over $7000 new. No windows, No airbags, pathetic top speed, not road legal.

A Lada 4x4 costs less than that brand new in Russia. Road legal, standard car top speed. Known as a very reliable car. Why can't I buy a really cheap car in the United States?

edit: also the lada 4x4 is possibly the coolest car i've ever seen, in it's own unique way. I would do anything to import one, but it's not legal.


"Road legal" has a different standard in the US. To sell a car in the US it must have airbags, ABS, electronic stability control, a backup camera (also implying a decently-large full-color display on the dashboard), and it must meet USDOT, NHTSA, and EPA standards (each of which are slightly incompatible with standards from other regions, and intentionally so as a soft trade barrier). I'm guessing that the Lada 4x4 would be too close to a "real" car to be sold as a "not-car" offroad-only vehicle but would require too many changes to be sold cost-effectively as a "real" car in the US.

FWIW if the car is >= 25 years old, most of these regulations go away.

I have a 1990 Subaru Sambar pickup truck [1] imported from Japan that is street legal and registered in Washington state. It’s probably only a tiny bit safer than a motorcycle because it has seatbelts. Maybe cancelled out by the fact that I don’t wear a helmet while driving it.

You can get them for $3K - 5K depending on condition and they are excellent little city trucks that get fantastic fuel economy. Getting used to the right-side drive and shifting left handed wasn’t so bad. The hard part is the blinkers and windshield wipers are swapped!

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subaru_Sambar#/media/File%3A...


Regs also "go away" if you sell the car in parts that can be put together; it basically becomes a "kit car" at that point.

Plus, there is some kind of loophole out there for some of the quads out there (well, at least here in Arizona - we play kinda fast and loose with such I guess), like the CanAm vehicles; I see them licensed and tagged and going down the road all the time here in sand land.

Then again, that re-issue of the Jeep from India can't be sold and driven on road legally - even here in AZ:

https://jalopnik.com/the-mahindra-roxor-is-a-tiny-offroad-je...


You just rekindled my long time desire to own one of these. I saw them all over the place in okinawa and I have a die-cast toy car of one somewhere around here. I remember there was someone who put that longhorn decoration you see as a texas cliche on one. They definitely are pretty neat. It would be great for hauling landscaping items from my local nursery without having to get a full sized truck.

If you aren't towing anything or driving cross-country, they can do just about everything a full-size pickup can do.

The bed size is 6.5 feet long and 4.5 feet wide. That's the same length as the Ford F150 bed, and the same width between the wheel wells. They are rated for 350kg (770 lbs) but you can go up to 450kg if it's well distributed.

I am an amateur carpenter and haul wood around the Seattle area in it all the time. It's absolutely perfect for this use case. It sips gas, too. Gets 30 mpg city 50 highway.


You can get 4x4 kei trucks as well. They're quite popular in New Zealand for farm work. Not road legal at all, but if you put offroad tyres on, they're basically a quad bike with a roof and a tray.

I'm with you, I've always admired the teeny utility trucks I see when I travel in China. It never occurred to me I could just import one thats >25 years old.

Some states won't register kei-trucks, so check with your state first. There are a few importers that keep some on stock.

For example, here is a big one in southern WA: https://www.nwminitrucks.com/inventory/active

And here is where I got mine in Seattle: http://sodo-moto.com/in-stock/?shipment=in-stock&body-style=...


That's just so cool. I don't know why. It's somehow got this giant "I do what I want" attitude written on it. Muscle cars seem so conservative and formulaic.

For whatever reason, the current generation of teenagers seems to think it's really cool. I get compliments and genuine interest from that cohort all the time. I guess it might be because it's kind of a rebellious/counterculture/ironic sort of vehicle to drive in a country dominated by F-150 style trucks.

I knew someone when I was in high school that drove a Jeep CJ (not sure if it was a retired postal jeep or was originally sold as consumer), and I was immediately taken by how cool it was, and how much I wanted one.

I think it appeals to some in the same way that classic muscle cards do or did. Most people I knew that owned and or "restored" (using that term loosely) these cars when I was young were much less interested in being historically accurate, and much more interested in putting their own touch on them. It's a method of self expression and displaying your identity, and one that's approachable to those that are sometimes much shyer about doing so in other manners.

I speak as someone whose first car was a 1967 Mustang, and whose second was a 1973 240Z, but who now happily splits my driving time between a Toyota Camry and Honda Odyssey. I sometimes entertain the idea of starting a project car again, but with so many other projects to choose from, I doubt I'll get to it any time in the next decade.


FWIW the >25year old rule is not true in California. Things are much more complicated here.

Good.

> FWIW if the car is >= 25 years old, most of these regulations go away.

Most of those are only required to sell a new car; a car previously legally sold in the US (and maybe one sold after being legally imported by a consumer) doesn't need many of them, though it will have had to have met whichever were in place when it was first sold.


There's an import dealer in Seattle that sales similar models. Eg:

http://sodo-moto.com/listings/1987-mitsubishi-truck-2wd/


Just don't plan on driving one if you're over 5'10".

I am 5'10" and have 5" of headroom (just went out and measured to write this comment!). The cab is actually really spacious.

I'm somewhat surprised since I'm 5'11", in the drivers seat of a Delica, which is considerably larger than a Sambar, my hair touches the ceiling trim.

TIL new cars sold in the US require backup cameras. Wow.

It's because there are so many trucks and SUVs which can completely obscure people (especially children) under 5 ft (~1.5 m) from their rear windows when they are too close to the vehicle because the vehicles are so high off the ground.

So this is required to sell new cars; it's not required to be street-legal, though, right? For instance: you can't sell a car in the US without both side-view mirrors, but you can drive a car without one of them.

Yes, the safety equipment standards I listed are for new vehicles. Existing/used vehicles only need to comply with the standards that were in effect when they were new (and even then those standards are only enforced in the 15 states with mandatory safety inspections). The only exception I think is seatbelts since it's illegal to drive a car without wearing one in all but one state.

> The only exception I think is seatbelts since it's illegal to drive a car without wearing one in all but one state.

I know in Arizona if the car didn't originally come with seatbelts then you don't have to install them. Used to have a '53 Dodge that didn't have them and it was fine -- kind of freaked out my sister though...


To be fair, it is still reckless to drive an old car without seatbelts. Even more so than driving a newer car without seatbelts.

Careful about relying on that, as while state law may not require you add safety equipment such as seat belts, county or city law might. I live in a location in California (which doesn't require seat belts in cars prior to 1965 that didn't originally sell with them), but the local laws require them to be present and utilized while any vehicle is in operation.

> Careful about relying on that, as while state law may not require you add safety equipment such as seat belts, county or city law might.

We're talking Arizona. Here, you can get away with just about anything, and unless it's blatant, nobody really cares. Sometimes not even then.


I recently was talking about protected left-hand turn patterns and remembered a trip to Arizona in the early 2000s. I remember my parents being initially cautious but quickly thrilled about protected left-hand turns coming after yellow lights and before red lights. It seems like it ought to reduce congestion and accidents.

So I started looking into it, and I found that that isn't even an all-Arizona thing. Municipalities decide their own light patterns. Some places even change the pattern from morning to night coincide with commutes.

I never did figure out if there were any safety or congestion benefits. I'm still shocked that that level of localism doesn't cause chaos.


Mostly just Scottsdale does that and it does cause a bit of confusion when people don't expect it and are playing with their phones but overall it's better since people don't clog up the left turn signal running the red.

My mom mentioned an old school way for a small child to die was to go out outside and play behind the car in the driveway. And then have daddy run them over backing out of the driveway.

thump

My own dad backed over my tricycle.

Ever wonder why you only have automatic power windows on the drivers side? In the early sixties I had a second cousin strangled by one.


That’s not old school, sadly it still happens all the time (running over toddlers)

In the 60's people generally thought nothing of a 3 year old going out the front door by themselves. That's what I mean by old school.

I have a van without out a back up camera, I'm slightly terrified of backing up because of small scampering children and short Asian grandma's. I've noted balloon cross overs have the same problem.


Ideally this would have only targeted vehicles that have this problem. I wonder if they didn't want to disadvantage pick up trucks because they are pretty much exclusively made in the US due to existing burden on imported pick ups. I for one wish we could find a way to address the US pickup and SUV disease and encourage much smaller cars.

I agree that it's a disease, but I believe it's simply a disease of luxury. Americans are wealthy enough to buy the most convenient car possible and afford the gas costs that go with it. I drive small cars and once in a while with passengers we feel cramped, or I have to borrow my dads truck to haul some wood for a project or some plants from the nursery.

I think it must be more than that though. People in central and northern Europe have plenty of money as well and spend a fair amount on cars. Those cars tend to be very different though. You'll likely see more luxury sedans, tuned Golfs etc. Pickup trucks are almost entirely non-existent. Business would get a sprinter that actually keeps stuff dry.

I think at least part of it is feeling unsafe in a sedan with these giant trucks around you. There also might be a uniquely American affection for that type of vehicle and the image that goes with it, as well as a ignorance for climate concerns. More often than not when I see a vehicle with a American flag on it it's a pickup and certainly never a Prius.


> ignorance for climate concerns.

And the EU has demonstrated ignorance for actual air pollution. Their obsession for CO2 reduction has resulted in some of the worst air quality. Particulate and NO pollution is far more dangerous to human health than CO2. In trying to “save the world,” Europe has managed to poison itself through years of misguided policy objectives.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S136403211...


I think it’s mostly a cultural thing but the pickup is just so dang convenient. I have two dogs and a young child and it’s just so convenient to plan a trip where we question what we might need and can just say ‘Oh well, we have room. Just toss it in the bed.’ Do I need this vehicle? No. I survived just fine without it. However it’s the same payment as the small SUV we owned prior with 10x the utility. Why wouldn’t someone own one?

It seemed to me that when I visited Australia many people drove smaller variations of the pickup. I’m not sure why they do not have full size pickups but, if they were a financially viable option, it seemed like they would sell extremely well there. Point is, a pickup is super convenient. US just seemed to be the place where cost, affluence, and utility hit the sweet spot and they sell like crazy.


I'm Aussie, we call them "utes". Our taxation systems don't reward large vehicles. We have taxes on purchasing them, yearly tax on registration and compulsory insurance, high fuel taxes, etc. Even the "smaller" pickups are quite expensive to own and operate. The large ones wouldn't sell well here due to the cost.

US taxation works the same way. It does very somewhat from state to state, but generally there is a sales tax assessed as a percentage of the sale price and an annual registration fee commensurate with the assessed value of the vehicle. For expensive trucks and SUVs, the latter can reach into the thousands.

Since most people are not buying a 35k+ vehicle with cash money, instead taking out loans, they are required by the bank to carry expensive full coverage insurance on top of the state-mandated liability insurance - and generally a more expensive vehicle will have more expensive insurance, since a tota loss requires a higher payout.

Gas prices in the US are lower than in many countries, but there are state and federal excise taxes, generally (nominally) used to fund road maintenance. Combining a large tank with long commutes and poor gas mileage, it’s not uncommon for people to be spending $200 (with the current low prices) a month per vehicle on gas. This is a significant fraction of post tax income for most Americans.

Americans are spending a ton of money on large vehicles. They know they’re spending a ton of money on them. For whatever reason, they really think it’s worth it.


Here it's a bit different. We have special taxes that only apply to utes/vans/trucks and our annual fees are based on the engine size of the vehicle (with a bonus fee for utes/vans). I traded my ute in for a smaller car about a year ago and my yearly fees have halved, my on-road costs have halved, etc. I do agree that you have an odd cultural fascination with them, that's why I don't think they'd sell well here. We are trending smaller nowadays.

When reversing a car like a Mustang, you can’t see what you are about to roll over either. The U.K. is apparently also considering mandatory backup cameras. It isn’t just a “truck” thing.

Manufacturers can put the backup camera display in the rearview mirror so they can get by with using the same cheap dashboard for fleet and commercial vehicles. I've seen this in newer Uhaul vans but not anywhere else.

My Honda CR-Z had this. Loved it, because it meant I got a dash with real buttons instead of the laggy infotainment crap that's in my current car (Subaru Impreza).

The Polaris Slingshot is the closest "car" I can think of. They have 3 wheels and are licensed as a motorcycle, so they skirt many of these safety issues. They also cost $28k; more than a lot of cars. Compare that to the Kia Soul that starts at $16,500. I guess you're paying for cool factor on the Polaris.

Blimey, all cars sold in the US must have a parking camera?

Lada 4x4 is an extremely outdated car. They are started to manufacture in 1977 and did not change much since then. Only engine was upgraded to conform to modern ecology standards. Crash test is terrible, it's probably worst car in the world in that aspect. Also it's extremely unreliable car.

That car makes sense in some areas of Russia (or similar countries). While it's unreliable, usually it's easy to repair and spare parts are very cheap, so for some people it's not a big problem. With its 4x4 drive, excellent geometry and low weight you can drive over very bad terrain and that's important in some rural areas in Russia. And of course it's dirt cheap, so for low income buyers it's much more practical choice than spend 5x money on some brand.

I have no idea about US, but honestly I don't think that many of those advantages would apply there. Also I've certainly saw those cars in US, you probably can find one in second hand market. It might be called Niva.


Having driven both I must say while the 2121 (the USSR Niva) has great nostagic appeal, the Chevy Niva (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_Niva) is quite a bit more comfortable. Still the same problems with reliability, since it's just a new body on old everything else.

Edit: all in all, I prefer a diesel Hilux and/or suitably old Landcruiser for the offroad duties. Going anywhere on a highway is a pain in either Niva.


Mmm...I dream of bringing a diesel quad cab Toyota Hilux or a Hiace from Central America up to Canada. The Hiace is the coolest minibus. Heck, I would even take a Ford Ranger quad cab diesel.

>It might be called Niva.

Yes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lada_Niva


Few reasons :

1. Higher government regulations. This includes safety as well as emission regulations.

2. Actual implementation of those regulations. In many countries as I know regulations are routinely ignored and bribes are paid to keep quiet.

3. Contrary to what others might tell you American cars tend to be far more robust than most other countries. This is because Americans drive more and over longer distances and far too often.

4. There is no market for cheap cars in USA. That Lada 4x4 will not sell in USA at all with its mere 1.6L engine and 90 Mph max speed.

Of course if Lada had to slightly rebrand and market its car as "non-road vehicle" they might sell for the $7000k. Mahindra from India did the same and they have been selling their mini jeep for <$10k.


Could it also be the USA system of dealers having to be 3rd party my law and therefore needing to mark up the price for their profit vs other markets where car companies run their own storefronts?

This is the vehicle that I wish could get funded, and then be purchasable in the United States - but I doubt that will ever happen:

http://oxgvt.com/

The only vehicle I'd like to own more than that one is a re-release of the M274 Mule:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M274_%C2%BD-ton_4%C3%974_utili...


For the Mule: "The driver's seat could be removed and the steering column moved forward and the vehicle driven in reverse to accommodate more cargo. If under fire the steering column could be moved farther forward and down, so the operator could operate the vehicle while crawling behind it."

That's a really cool bit of design! The minimalist make-do-with-what-you've-got philosophy is so different from today's ways of designing military gear.


>The only vehicle I'd like to own more than that one is a re-release of the M274 Mule

Ah, the military golf cart. I'm sure you can get a used one? Also you might be interested in its direct Soviet counterpart: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LuAZ-967 (or the civilian variants like 1302)


Well I'm googling it, but no I'm pretty sure you can't buy a new Lada 4x4 for less than 7000 $.

On the other hand in Europe you can buy a new Dacia Sandero for under 7000 euros. It comes with power steering, front electronic windows, heating, airbags and 4/5 safety rating.


Well, depends on location. In Russia you can buy it for ~6550 (quickly checked the prices of one of the dealers).

I doubt that Dacia Sandero can compare to Lada Niva when it comes to off-road performance, though.

With the Deere Gator, you're paying a bit more for quality, and more for brand recognition. There are very likely competitors in this same category that have both lower prices and less famous names. Sometimes higher prices for better quality is good, or at least ok overall.

>>A Lada 4x4 costs less than that brand new in Russia. Road legal, standard car top speed. Known as a very reliable car. Why can't I buy a really cheap car in the United States?

Average Russian's buying power vs US one. Plus, USA demands a lot more, and it can afford it. If your family dies in the car crash anyone from the tire to the glass maker will be sued.


That is cool looking. Reminds me of a jacked up, 80's VW Rabbit.

https://www.deere.com/en/gator-utility-vehicles/

You're right about John Deere Gator being overpriced.

If mass produced, there's no reason why Chinese (or others) can't build something of comparable quality for $3k.


The Gator isn't really overpriced: it's a low-volume vehicle and the price reflects that. The low-end Chinese-branded UTVs don't cost much less (I'm pretty sure the Gator, despite the JD badge, is made in China).

It’s made in Wisconsin likely from a host of Chinese made parts.[1]

[1]https://www.reliableplant.com/Read/26725/John-Deere-plant-Ga...


Whats the crash testing like on that Lada 4x4?

I don't know, I assume it's better than the more expensive open air golf cart that i'm comparing to though.

edit: What i'm trying to say is, why is a fully functional car (even with bad crash safety and emissions) cheaper outside the United States than a golf cart is here? The answer seems obvious to me. Making it illegal to import cars has stifled competition and hurt consumers in the US.


Because the quality is much lower. The tractor is meant to be used near capacity for thousands of hours. Lada not so much. Lada is known to rust easily, John Deer is known for quality...

Also, you are comparing two different spectrums. Maybe compare against very good farm equipment in Russia?


I'm seeing a lot of "John Deer == Quality" comments in this thread.

My farming background says "John Deer == artificially (and insanely) expensive maintenance". I've always equated JD with just being one of the biggest players, not necessarily a reflection of good quality.


That said, we had no issues with the John Deere trackers we had. Same with IH, for that matter.

...no issues...

You've been fortunate with your tractors. IME, even "quality" brands like Deere and IH often have infuriating issues for which one eventually learns to compensate. It's good to talk to a few people before buying anything. My dad has a guy he always calls who owns a tractor auction, and can be trusted to tell the truth about different models.

Ceteris paribus, I would just get a Kubota.


But if it's not good enough to pass US crash testing then it's pointless to release here. No one wants a golf cart that looks like a car.

That's assuming they travel the same speed.

Because Lada 4x4 has a much higher top speed it is has the potential for much more serious accidents.


politics. US car market is protectionist in nature.

Yes, the domestic automakers are terrified that someone will begin importing a new vehicle that is nearly competitive with a 1979 AMC Eagle. Clearly, a protective tariff is what's called for, to prevent the US auto industry from being overwhelmed by the makers of Soviet 4x4s and chest-freezer sized Japanese cargo vans.

From Wikipedia:

In 2002 the Lada Niva was awarded zero stars out of a possible four by the modern Russian ARCAP safety assessment program.


Lada Niva is quite robust. I guess that it will crash whatever it hits. The same will happens to the humans inside. The car itself does not break easily :)

Except these are designed to be road legal in the 46 states that allow them. As far as I can tell, the utility vehicles you state are not road legal - the difference is minor though as you can legally drive them on the road in all 50 states for things like agriculture but the limits are stronger.

28 miles per hour pretty much rules them out except for residential neighborhoods. Most major city streets in the U.S. are at least 30 mph. If the Pickman can be improved to go 40, it might stand a chance. Otherwise, it's just a glorified golf cart as the other poster suggests.

You could get by with 28 MPH in some cities. Boston for example has a 25 MPH speed limit city-wide, unless posted otherwise. It wouldn't work in some places, but I wouldn't mind using a fancy golf cart there to run errands. That Pickman truck in the article is right up my alley.

NEVs have been available for 20+ years. If you want one you can have one now.

Most shops I've seen are small boutiques rather than auto manufacturers and they're priced accordingly (no economy of scale). Seems hard to get something that isn't a literal golf cart (i.e., has no cargo space or doors) for under $10k.

I just priced one, they are almost double the price of this, so if quality is there this could still be a good deal.

I wrote this article and a field guide on China's electric-car boom https://qz.com/guide/electric-cars/. Happy to answer any questions.

I saw that you also wrote about how these cars phone home real-time analytics data to the manufacturers and Chinese government:

https://qz.com/1490376/chinas-electric-cars-are-government-s...

Has there been any word whether the international versions also provide "analytics" for its drivers?

Thank you for these articles!


Do you know if they actually make a profit on a $1000 or $9000 price, or they're just dumping their products on the market, like they did for solar panels?

I don't for certain. In my trip to China, I couldn't meet makers of LSEVs. What I do know is that there are no subsidies in that market, which means carmakers won't survive if they don't make a profit. But it's a good question whether they are making that profit at the cost of human lives (no crash protection) or the environment (lead-acid batteries).

I have just had a look on Wikipedi for the list of road deaths by country [1].

The figures are from 2013, so very out of date, but for the UK (where I live) it is 5.1 road fatalaties per 100,000 motor vehicles. For the US it is 12.9, and for China 104.5. I think that shows pretty starkly that the reason we are paying so much more for our cars is for a massively higher chance of surviving an accident.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_traffic-r...


China has twice the rate of fatalities per vehicle of Argentina, which has twice that of the USA, which is four times worth than Switzerland. It means the cars sold in Switzerland are much better than in America and everywhere else?

Modern American and European cars may have a positive impact on the fatality rate, but the numbers above don't prove it in any way. I suspect the local culture of driving and the legal policy explain most of the differences between these rates.

BTW, when walking or riding a bicycle, I'd rather get hit by a 20 year old average car than a modern SUV.


> I suspect the local culture of driving and the legal policy explain most of the differences between these rates.

Local culture has a huge impact. Adherence to seatbelt laws, tolerance of drunk driving etc vary massively.

> BTW, when walking or riding a bicycle, I'd rather get hit by a 20 year old average car than a modern SUV

I'm not 100% sold on that - modern safety ratings like Euro NCAP also rate injuries to pedestrians so the hoods of modern vehicles are designed to give way. Some cars (e.g. Volvo) even go as far as to have active hoods - "Sensors in the bumper detect when a pedestrian has been struck and actuators lift the bonnet to provide greater clearance to stiff structures in the engine compartment"

You might also not even get hit in the first place thanks to AEB systems.


> ...or riding a bicycle, I'd rather get hit by a 20 year old average car than a modern SUV.

Been there, done that and it still hurts.

Though...it does turn out that learning how to do a proper parachute landing fall in the army is directly applicable to civilian life and distracted drivers.


> But it's a good question whether they are making that profit at the cost of human lives (no crash protection)

To the extent that the cars are replacing scooters, they are an unmitigated benefit, safety wise.


Not true. Going from cars to scooters is safety-positive for those passengers, and safety-negative for everyone outside that car, particularly those who are not themselves in a car.

Exactly. This just happened to me when I was struck by a moped in a near-fatal crash. Because it is not a motor vehicle by insurance and Legal standards in the USA it does not require a license or insurance to operate. If you are hit by one of these, you’ll find there’s no insurance to cover you other than your health insurance. Underinsured coverage on your auto policy will not apply either, as it would if you were hit by a motor vehicle.

There is honestly little/no question there as to production methods and their human and environmental impact.

It's a combination of dumping and also just extremely low-quality materials and products. I would be extremely surprised if any of these vehicles lasted a year.

About 2 years is about when most seem to pass the worth-it-to-repair mark. These are all basically designed to be nearly disposable as technologues and tastes change.

Are these road-legal in the west? If the off-road farm and construction-site applications are the only use-cases, that would seem to rather limit the impact on the market.

They will be in the US, because there's supposed to be NHTSA-approved version. Given regulations in Europe, I assume that would be the case too.

That means this version has some more safety features than the the base model in China, which could explain why it costs more than 3x outside China.


> which could explain why it costs more than 3x outside China.

Yeah, this has to be more than just western-market markup:

>> Kaiyun will start selling its “Pickman” electric pickup in the US, Germany, and Italy as soon as next month. The base Chinese model sells for 16,800 yuan ($2,500). The US version will start at $8,950, Fox News reports.


These I'm not sure, but overall yes they can be street legal: The Renault Twizy -- I've seen them in France and in Cambridge, MA (https://www.bonzer.rocks/) They're in use and cost ~10k. Last time I checked you can get a 25mpg and a 50mpg version. While the 25mpg versions are street legal and available now in the US market, I believe the 50mpg version is still only available in europe.

https://www.renault.fr/vehicules/vehicules-electriques/twizy...


The trick with Renault Twizy is that it is not registered as a proper car, but rather as some kind of motorcycle with a roof, so it does not have really stringent safety requirements.

Because it is not a motor vehicle by insurance and Legal standards in the USA it does not require a license or insurance to operate. If you are hit by one of these, you’ll find there’s no insurance to cover you other than your health insurance. Underinsured coverage on your auto policy will not apply either, as it would if you were hit by a motor vehicle. Source: this just happened to me.

Generally, while your insurer (health, auto, homeowner, or otherwise) would cover your initial costs, you would get reimbursed by suing the driver of the golf cart that hit you and they would either personally be liable or pay through their insurance company.

The difference is that it’s illegal to drive a motor vehicle without liability insurance. With other vehicles, that can be just as lethal to pedestrians or cyclists, there is no such requirement. In my case, the driver who hit me was homeless with no insurance of any kind.

That's awful, I hope you're recovering and can be made whole quickly. Regarding your under/uninsured coverage, were you outside of your vehicle when you were hit?

According to an owner I had a chat with a while ago, the catch with the Twizy is the monthly battery pack "insurance" which isn't that cheap. IIRC there are two options for a buyer: either pay this insurance that covers everything, including getting a new pack once the old one is depleted, or buying the new pack as a spare part which will cost about half of the car price. All things considered, it's a nice vehicle that is getting some success (I've saw a few during last years) yet still not economically convenient compared to traditional cars.

For a website servicing the US market (Bonzer in Cambridge MA), the website sure doesn't seem like it was written by someone who understands English, and the pictures are written in French and have km/h. I undersand Renault is a French company, but Bonzer's American-facing website doesn't give me much confidence in their commitment or quality in this market.

A lot of European companies are like this and don't get really good translators and often don't really grok the internet - most of the content in PDF form is common.

Mph?

[flagged]


It falls into the uncanny valley on so many axes.

> It falls into the uncanny valley on so many axes.

Sorry, think I'm missing something here... How does the Twizy look like a human?


'Uncanny valley' is sometimes generalised to mean anything which looks almost, but not quite, the same as something you're familiar with, and is subtly disturbing as a result.

An example would be staying in a hotel for a while, then again in a different room that looks identical. (At least, that creeps me out, I start feeling like the room isn't really attached to the rest of the world.)


Probably, but you better check your exact situation which might be illegal anyway.

They are legal in 46 states currently, on streets with a speed limit <= 35mph. Some towns have more restrictive laws as well.


Thank you for populating your articles with graphs and sources at qz, that makes it one of my favorite source of information!

It also happens to be my favorite thing about writing Qz articles. :)

At that price point I'd enthusiastically recommend a three year old Nissan Leaf; that's about what I paid and it's served me well.

The resale value is so bad (except for Teslas) that it probably makes more sense to lease electric cars than to buy new.

Every generation of electric cars is such a big improvement over the previous one, especially in terms of range and fast charging, that the resale value of the old ones is unusually low.


I struggled with this one recently. My wife and I bought a 2 year old leaf (30 KWh) in Japan recently. We ended up with a pretty good deal -- the car only had 6K km on the dial and we're paying less than $300 per month with no down payment. I'm basically treating it as a lease. It was hard to find anyone here willing to lease a Leaf and I couldn't get them to give me an idea on the price without going into serious negotiations, so we went with the sale. It also helped that they gave us basically free charging for 2 years (they have a $20 per month unlimited charging plan, but then are giving us $20 per month in JCB gift certificates, which are accepted in enough places that it's essentially cash). My plan is to pay off the car in 5 years and replace it. I don't really expect to get anything substantial for it.

When we end up replacing it, I may consider doing a battery swap instead. The dealer told me that you can swap the battery for about $7K. I'm wondering if it will be possible to upgrade things for a reasonable cost in 5 years time. I've been looking at the new e+ leafs and I think the form factor for the batteries is the same, so potentially you just need to swap out the batteries and replace the power management unit. Whether that's even possible, I don't know.

Either way, if we can replace this car in 5 years with a car made 3 years from now, then I think we'll still be quite a bit ahead of the game compared to buying a new car.

I was a bit nervous about going EV, but it's been a couple of months now and I've had literally no problems at all. Now sure how well it would work in many places in NA, but here in Japan, I've been very surprised about how convenient it has been. Doing our first real road trip next month, though. We'll see how it goes ;-)


It will be interesting at what point we’ll hit “good enough”. Somewhere around 200 miles of reliable range and 100kW charging speed I think is where it ceases to matter for most people. If you have off street parking you’ll only need to use a fast charger for road trips, and then you can drive for 3 hour periods with half an hour rest in between. We’re not quite there but not far off.

I think it's really more about the relative increase in range vs the absolute number. If a new car has 100 more miles of range than a used car, that will hurt the resale value of the used car.

This is especially true today because the used cars didn't have that much range to begin with, but I suspect that will still be true when the current 300-mile cars are replaced with 400-mile or 500-mile cars. People want a lot more range than they actually need.


In 2014 I leased a LEAF for 2 years. It lost about $15,000 in value over those two years, and I had to drive a LEAF during that time. Because I leased, Nissan ate most of that. In 2016 I bought a Tesla. Based on current resale numbers, it's lost about $15,000 in value over those two years. I'm eating that depreciation, but I get to drive a Tesla.

Absolutely. You're not saving money buying a brand-new $9k car with zero resale value. You're honestly better off just buying a used Corolla and paying for gas or a used EV like you mention.

A friend of mine just bought a new Leaf in Massachusetts for a net $15,000 (includes $7500 federal tax credit and $2500 state credit). The car goes 150 miles, and doesn't look like a leaf, more like a regular sporty subcompact. I'd say it's a much better investment than one of these Pickman vehicles. Of course, there would also be a tax credit for the Pickman, though I'm not sure how much.

Used BMW i3s are going for sub-$15k.

Some also come with a range extender, very useful for long distances.

I hadn't considered that, and looking at the prices I think that might be my next car!

Did you have to take over a battery lease, and if so how much will you be paying and for how long?

Like the other commenter, I've never heard of a battery lease. Just bought it outright.

For what it's worth I had the choice to pay a bit more to get a different Leaf that had a new battery (replacement under warranty). Given that I don't drive much (6 mile commute), I figured a slightly healthier battery is probably not going to be as useful to me, and the car/battery will deteriorate from age before mileage is as much a factor.


I outright bought mine. I'd never heard of battery leasing until your comment, it doesn't appear to be an option in Canada.

I wish 2nd hand car prices were that low in South Africa.

I'd technically be in the demographic for this. I have a less than 10 mile commute.

However, that 28 MpH maximum speed is a legitimate limitation/problem, even on my under 10 mile commute, there's at least two roads that are 40 MpH (people drive 45 MpH), and I'm going to get honked at if I can barely maintain 28 MpH.

I like the price and concept... But that max speed is a deal breaker. It will be interesting to see what cost a freeway model is.


These are literally golf carts. Exact same usage as a golf cart.

the usage cases are just going to be so limited, the liability of letting them on the road will probably be moot if the NHTSA holds them to the same crash standards as cars.

I just don't see it, the "upscale" neighborhood adjacent to us is replete with golf carts and most of those are electric, but they have wide sidewalks to support them as the rules do not allow them on road ways.


US law has a provision for low speed cars with a 25mph top speed. Typically these cars are not allowed on roads with a speed limit > 35mph. There are less safety requirements which is why these cars can be cheaper.

Similar situation here. I do badly want the Toyota i-Road for my commute, but they seem to be making very slow progress with that vehicle.

Edit: I so badly want a green, cheap vehicle for my commute and ideally a solution for first and last mile public transit connection. My own i-Road and rentable ones for public transit connection would be amazing. Only problem might be the huge pickups with their brutish drivers everywhere in the US.


"the US version will start at $8,950"

I don't like that price point at all. With $9k you can get a much better vehicle that has far more utility.


There is no way these will be street legal in US. Just 0% chance. Selling something street legal is a huge hustle in US -> is why there is exactly 0 Chinese car manufacturers represented here (hell - no even european renault and peugeot can get established) -> just a huge lobby & big & politics & patent war stacking up against this.

Low speed vehicles with no safety equipment are street legal in most US states. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low-speed_vehicle

When a foreigner lands in the US, the first thing she'd notice are how big things are - cars, super markets, the amount of food they give in restaurants, the size of soda cups, popcorn "buckets" etc. Americans like their big cars. I've heard them make fun of small cars as "toys" many times. It would be interesting to see how these tiny cars are received in a market that is used to having pretty much everything big.

I would assume that in high-density areas, having a smaller car that's easier to control and park would be an advantage over the bigger cars. Fuel cost is also a factor with smaller cars usually being more efficient, especially in urban traffic conditions.

I would expect these electric cars would probably compete with these smaller models in dense urban areas.


Yet the smart car never really took off, even in said high-density areas.

Maybe the smart car was too small, but “Small” cars (by American standards, anyway) are still popular. They’re just disguised as SUVs and classified as “subcompact crossovers”. With how wide American roads tend to be, the Smart car is perhaps unnecessarily small for America.

Yet you can park in many spaces in SF that a regular car cannot. So it can’t just be about utility...

Driving a small car around the behemoths on American roads can be terrifying. Driving a tiny car is so much worse I wouldn't even consider it... It's about what (and how) other people drive as much as my own tastes

Plant a flag on the roof? :P

Recently in our parking garage they marked two parking lots on the corner for compact cars. I usually park quite close to these spots and I have yet to see a truly compact car parked there. I have even seen pickup trucks parked there! I once showed it to the parking lot attendant and he just shrugged and said it looked compact to him :)

The US market is notoriously unforgiving of bad quality cars. Hyundai and Detroit are still trying to repair their damaged reputations from decades ago.

Americans are car connoisseurs similar to how the French are food and drink connoisseurs. Tread carefully.


Car connoisseurs? Americans? Are you making a joke?

Everything here is a huge, gas guzzling SUV, or a Ford F150 truck.

Americans don't care about road feel/driving mechanics, artistic or elegant design. They want a huge and loud car to show other people how much better they are than them. Ideally, the bigger and louder and more brash, the better.

This is a country that came up with "rolling coal" for god's sake.

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/05/business/energy-environme...


There are different kinds of connoisseurs. While Europeans tend to prefer agile sports-cars, in part because they have more winding roads, less people do drive there.

I'd love a golf cart type car but the days I need it most it's -10C or -20C (Think around zero freedom degrees) and I don't trust these manufacturers to do the kind of winter testing I'm expecting. If any plastics give up, or battery thermals don't at least allow the same kind of range-fraction a Leaf or Model3 does in (really) cold weather, it's not going to work. Even my french petrol car is absolutely terrible in winter compared to a German or Swedish. Drive a few miles through slosh, leave the car out over night, then the brake calipers seize (No handbrake applied). My VW is excellent in comparison with a folding out rear view camera for example, that works even when ice covered (Tesla should take a note).

This is the problem with cars: you can't get one for just 3 seasons.


I really only need a car for 3 reasons: rain, cold and snow. Last week it was -30C here (real temperature, wind made it worse), no way will I walk/bike in that. Week before we get snow/ice - the roads were slippery enough that I wouldn't want to not have a cage around me.

I can bike on those nice fall days when everything is easy. (I can bike on those hot summer days but it isn't as fun)


As a comparison I looked at the two best sellers in Europe [1]: Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe. Renault Zoe is the cheapest at 22,900 USD without battery (which can be rent) or 31,350 USD with battery. Renting the battery is a popular choice in the EU (at least in France, not sure in other countries).

[1] https://cleantechnica.com/2019/02/03/europe-ev-sales-renault...


These cars are closer to the Renault Twizy.

No crash protection? Almost 10k? I can get a decent used vehicle for 10k with a better top speed and crash protection. Seems like a no brainer to me to stick w/ a traditional model.

I didn't say there's no crash protection on the Pickman. It's the $1000 cars sold in China that don't have them. Pretty sure that to qualify in the US and Europe, the Kaiyun car need to a minimum level of safety features.

There are loads of these kinds of vehicles in The Netherlands, both petrol and electric. They can be driven by 16-year-olds on both roads and cycle paths. There is no requirement for a driving license either so you see lots of seniors and disabled people use them.

They fill an important gap although I personally believe that electric bikes are a far better match particularly for the 16 year old kids who drive those things around.

Basically I'd feel much safer driving in the UK if Prince Philip was behind the wheel of one of these instead of the mobile tank that he drives ;)


According to this retailer (I think it's a retailer at least) "crash protection" is not really an included feature.

http://www.trackandfieldmotors.com/info.php?car_id=133


ABS, roof bars, traction control, and airbags are all what I would consider crash protection. EDIT: Didn't see the traction control the first time around.

If they're sold as motorbikes they don't need any safety features.

It seems obvious that used versions of these will be cheaper than $10k.

I suppose the advantage is you might not be required to have a drivers license or insurance since the vehicle might be classified like a electric scooter or something. Sort of like driving a golf cart around.

I'm really surprised the Japanese mini-trucks havn't taken off in the USA. They would be great for busy city streets where parking and space could be problematic. They also don't cost very much (used 5k USD).


> I'm really surprised the Japanese mini-trucks havn't taken off in the USA.

There was a small boom for importing them to use as farm trucks, but you can't import them until they are 25 years old if you want to drive them on the road. Most other countries have less restrictive import requirements, so they tend to go to those countries first. Not many left by the time they get to 25 years old.


I often wonder where I can get one of those mini trucks. They are so much more practical than F150s for transporting things around a city.

Honest question but do you need a lot in terms of crash protection if the top speed is 25mph? Theoretically you should only be in a collision at roughly 25mph (assuming you're sticking to roads where the speed limit is 25mph like you should be).

It's certainly better crash protection than a pedestrian, a bicycle, a moped, or a Segway which seems to be the competition.


If you're on a 25mph road, you should assume a 50mph collision with a vehicle headed in the other direction.

Two cars of the same mass hitting each other head on at 25mph is the same as one car hitting a solid (immovable) wall at 25mph.

Regardless, a bicycle moving at 25mph being hit head on by a car moving 25mph is going to be (at best) comparable to this thing getting hit at 25mph.


Maybe _you_ can only go 25mph, the other vehicles have no such restrictions.

Again... same is true for a bicycle. Or a pedestrian. Or a Segway. We can argue physics and legalities but no one has seemed to touch the actual substance of my point, which is "does this thing need to offer better crash protection than its closest competitor, a bike?"

Two cars of the same mass hitting each other head on at 25 mph will be the same as one car hitting that wall at 50 mph. Remember p = mv and m1v1 = m2v2

If it can have a snow plow mounted on the front and it has a trailer hitch, I'd buy one just for use on my hobby farm. Assuming they make it to Canada. I don't need it to be road legal, either. Just needs to be narrow enough to get down an 8' vineyard row, and be able to push a couple feet of snow.

For those uses just buy a John Deere Gator or a Toro Workman. Best purchase we ever made for our hobby farm. Relatively easy to find cheap used ones and maintenance is really simple to do yourself. We have the Workman. The electric motor climbs anything and is very easy to modulate for use in tight maneuvers. The turning radius is so small it can go anywhere it will physically fit.

They make an electric Gator now? Looked a few years ago and it wasn't really an option. Do they actually have proper industrial or agri tires as an option?

I guess it's just lead acid, tho? Must be heavy and low range. I'd love something like that with a J1772 plug so I can use my existing L2 EVSE


They've always made one. It's lead acid but has more than enough range for a day of work at the farm. Weight just helps with traction. Recent models have the charger on the car so you just need a place with an outlet. There are plenty of tire options out there too. I bought it with turf tires and replaced the rear ones with some nice offroad tires. It drives through pretty much anything now. Here are the ones I got:

https://www.carlislebrandtires.com/our-products/product-deta...

There are plenty ATV choices that fit but ones with high loading ratings are needed to support the car and the load.


I work about six to eight miles from home (depending on the route) in Atlanta. I bike in as often as I can, but I would be all over a cheap electric alternative that was rain-proof. I don't see this as a car replacement so much as a bicycle alternative.

I commented earlier about buying a used Leaf instead of the car in the article. I just wanted to mention that it's a great bicycle alternative for me too. Used to bike to work before I had four kids going different places.

I wonder why those are so cheap in the US. A 4 yo Leaf costs €16k where I live, and that’s considered a bargain actually.

A used leaf doesn't appeal to a lot of people.

A lot of used leafs are down to 60-80 miles of usable range, IIRC the average American commutes something like 15 miles each way, missing a charge or adding errands can put someone in a tight spot. And the weather in most American cities is 'extreme' - either winter is very cold (bad for battery range) or hot (bad for battery longevity in the leaf). My old city of minneapolis would have winter lows near -40 degrees C and would hit 38-40 degrees C every summer. That's very demanding for batteries.

America doesn't have a lot of charging infrastructure and unless you're a homeowner or live in a luxury apartment or work at a tech company or a company with an i.t competency, it's probably going to be hard to charge regularly.

Our cheap gas erodes the cost advantages of electric, you can find priuses (a Toyota hybrid) for $3k in any major city and that's going to give an electric car a serious run for its money in energy costs.


Maybe because the US seems to prefer giant SUVs with more interior space than your lounge room?

Have you considered getting something like a "rain-proof" bicycle like the electric Urban Arrow + rain cover + poncho?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7y5XSXeAFo

Is the Renault Twizy sold in the US? It doesn’t have window panes, but a roof.

I think these are a terrific idea! If someone wants to ride around without crash protection, they're already able to do that in the US. It's called a motorcycle.

Individual buyers should be free to choose how much safety they want in their vehicles vs. how much they're willing to pay.


Yes. I agree so much. Everyone should be free to purchase the car they want. If it sucks gas, the free market takes care of it with gas costs. I pay a ton more in gas tax (priced per gallon) than a smaller car. I also am free to use the suburban for what I want ... long road trips with my family of 5. Towing my boat. Hauling wood. I am also free to park the thing in my garage, because weather permitting (meaning above 10 degrees F) I commute 15 miles each way on my bicycle. My choice. Not anyone else's - including (and especially) the government.

These will go (in Europe) in the same range of so-called tiny-cars (quadricycles), discussed here:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18061897


I'd prefer something like this for my in-city commute over the already-allowed golf cart, but not at that price point.

> but not at that price point

Are they too expensive?


Seems like it, you could pick up a used Nissan Leaf coming off a lease for ~$7K USD, which is more comfortable and I have to imagine a lot safer. The Pickman might make an interesting delivery vehicle in cities, though.

$9000 seems like a lot for something so limited.

Yeah, I'd like to buy them at the price they sell it in China: $2,500.

I suspect the price difference is due to different standards of "road-worthiness" in China v. the US.

In a relative sense, for me, yes. Small value for more than the price of a beaten-up Fiat 500.

By "beaten-up" I'm assuming you mean second-hand, in which case this is an unfair comparison.

I'm sure that with time we'll have second-hand models of these tiny cars. The cost would definitely make it more tempting.


Fair enough. Compare it to a new golf cart. Those sell for $5-10K. http://www.costowl.com/b2b/golf-carts-new-cost.html

In the US you can buy a used Fiat 500 Electric or Chevy Spark Electric for around the same price.

Good point. Didn't realize that was possible now. But makes sense given how long some electric cars have been now. Next time I write about LSEVs, I'll make a note to mention second-hand electric cars.

Sure, but you'll eventually be able to buy these things used as well.

I sure hope these aren’t road legal. Maybe in warehouses or farms or golf courses. Not roads.

There will be an NHTSA approved road legal version, per Fox News https://www.foxnews.com/auto/new-half-ton-electric-pickup-co...

They fall under the same laws as golf karts, which vary from state to state.

Short answer: They aren't, except for certain roads with speeds under 35 MPH. This isn't a "car" in the traditional sense an American would recognize, it's a cart.

These sorts of vehicles are road legal here in Ontario under a pilot program:

http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/vehicles/low-speed-vehicles...

But I haven't seen much adoption. You're only allowed to drive them on roads with a speed limit of 50km/h (30mph) or lower, and at least in my city that would make them fairly impractical to get around as all the major roads that connect one community to another are 60km/h or more.


I'd happily buy one for city commutes when they become available.

I'm surprised China is going straight to the first world markets. These could be a hit in developing countries like Mexico (at China prices).

Developing countries don't have reliable power delivery networks with enough reserve capacity to handle a surge in demand to charge these cars.

Citizens of developing countries often take more of the infrastructure into their own hands than first-worlders. I can completely see someone buying a cheap-ish EV and a bunch of solar cells to go on their roof with it. Once you pay off the initial costs, you have free energy and cheap transportation. Not to mention that the power grid is often more reliable at night, when most EVs would be charged, than in the daytime.

Good point!

I would guess these work better in china which is a more dense country without the driving culture the US at least has. A car that goes 28mph with a limited range is basically a scooter.

With a 450 kg load capacity, but yes.

I saw electrical cargo tricycles in use at local resort. They are quiet and cheap (about $2k). IMHO, they are ideal for resorts.

https://www.google.com/search?q=hercules+tricycle+electric


Exactly, this is something to use within a single city it seems. In the Netherlands, people use their bicycle for that.

And this is how I expected electric cars to come to the USA before Tesla changed the rules.

Of course if Tesla goes belly up, this could still be how our all electric future starts.


I was hoping Trump would kill the chicken tax in his gusto to eliminate tariffs. There aren't any small trucks in the US because manufacturers found out they (a) don't have to offer them and (b) make more money from larger cars.

Mahindra was going to bring some interesting cheap mini-trucks but the chicken tax among other things scuttled it.

https://www.cheatsheet.com/automobiles/7-trucks-that-might-b...


Looking for a car for my daughter (15). Requirements in order:

Safety crash rating AWD Small Electric

No solution set found. :(


They don't mention the range...

That is one of the things not mentioned. Do they have heat/AC, do they work when it is -30, how do they do in a crash (granted at a 28mph top speed they don't need much production). Will they be road legal?

I'm interested, my 4 mile commute never gets to 30mph anyway, but I need to be sure it will work for me vs just be another ATV that I have no use for. (I just moved, my bike is someplace but until the weather improves I'm not in a hurry to find it).

After looking closer I have more questions: will I fit? I'm only slightly taller than average (about a standard deviation more), but the pictures I can find in a search suggest that I wouldn't fit.


I may wildly presumptive (based on the photo in the article), but if there aren't any doors I'm not sure how useful heat/AC would be.

If heat/AC is not useful, then I'm not a customer. If they can (magic?) make useful heat/AC without doors I'm fine with that. (though that does bring up the question - if I go through a puddle will I stay dry?)

>granted at a 28mph top speed they don't need much production(sic)

I have to disagree. When it comes to crash safety I am usually much more worried about a large SUV with bald tires than I am about crashing my own car. That SUV is on the road regardless of what you drive unfortunately, which drives the arms race of ever safer (and bigger and more dangerous) vehicles.


This was from a link to FOX NEWS in the article.

https://www.foxnews.com/auto/new-half-ton-electric-pickup-co...

>It’s made by China’s Kaiyun Motors and has a 5.5 hp motor that's good for a top speed of just 28 mph, which classifies it as a low-speed or neighborhood electric vehicle (LSV/NEV). Regulations regarding their operation vary state to state, but they are street legal in some places. It's aimed mainly at commercial customers and has a range of 75 miles per charge.


Got lost in the edit. Doh. Added now. Thanks!

>>they run on cheap lead-acid batteries, and they have little to no crash protection.

Hello Chinese cars, Welcome to America and you've been served.

assuming DOT or whoever tests them even let's them in the road.


A great stealth way to limit speeding I suppose.

Calling cheap is rude. Inexpensive?

these seem great to replace scooters in european cities.

So like Aixam?

there is 0 chance of these being sold as road legal in the US market

Not if Trump deems the talks with China to have failed and levies tax. I've watched too many liveleaks to be able to sit in anything China made

Can't see Trumps opinion holding much weight in Europe to be honest.

Probably, but I live in the US so like it or not they hold weight to me.

Didn't you know that French protesters have been chanting "We want Trump"?

Notice how much more we pay vs how much they pay: "The base Chinese model sells for 16,800 yuan ($2,500). The US version will start at $8,950 ".

Probably due to regulation, at least in part: it drives up costs almost 300%.




Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: