Reader Question: Affordable Chinese EVs?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply: 

Andrew writes: Interesting article – about the $4,500 Chinese EVs Americans aren’t allowed to buy. Thank you. Could you give me details on actual cost comparisons? How long are batteries guaranteed? I think it impossible to convert all cars to EV because we don’t have electric generating capacity or transmission lines top deliver it. Would it take more fossil fuel for EVs than for gas? Just how big is the scam?

My reply: I agree that EVs are not for everyone; that there are numerous serious issues yet to be overcome, such as the additional grid capacity necessary to support them. That said, at least these little Chinese EVs are affordable, something no American-available EV is. These Chinese EVs are of course less practical – in some ways, such as being not suited for highway driving. But in other ways, they are more practical – as for example in the role of a “city” car for people who rarely, if ever, need to drive any distance on the highway.

I’d like to see the market decide which types of cars make sense. I suspect we’d have a wide range of vehicles, some electric – others not – ranging from very basic little things like these Chinese things to over-the-top things like the Bugatti Veyron. This is as it ought to be. Choice. Our choice.

Instead, the government chooses – and for that reason, we lose.

As far as the rest: It’s hard to do a direct comparison because electricity costs are different in China than here. But – clearly – a car that costs $4,500 (electric or not) is going to cost less to own than a car that costs $25,000 (or $50,000).

. . .

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  1. Forgot to mention: the battery pack charges in a few hours off an ordinary 120V outlet, and I don’t think it even comes anywhere near 15A to do that. The charger looks like an overgrown notebook-computer power supply, and maybe delivers 100-150W into a battery good for a bit over 600 Wh.

  2. There’s another cheap EV option that, unlike these cars, is available here: the E-bike. I picked one up last year for about $1400: 1-kW geared hub motor (but don’t tell anybody about that, as it’s a bit over the 750W limit), 26×4 fat tires, full suspension, disc brakes, about 30-35 miles range (though I haven’t pushed it much beyond 20-25 yet), and if you tweak a few bits in the controller, you can uncork a top speed approaching 30 mph (vs. 15 if you leave it alone). Definitely not for highways, but I’ve kept up with downtown traffic with even less power than what this one has. The tires and suspension also afford it a bit of offroad ability. I ordered mine through Amazon, but you can probably find them in a bike shop near you in a range of configurations from mild to wild.

    • Scott,

      I built a 1000-watt electric mountain bike for my stepson for about $600 total. There were no such regulators, and it appeared to go about 35 MPH, though I never actually clocked it. Hauled ass, however, for a bicycle! He since has wrecked it, but I’d still love to build one for my own. Too many domestic projects in the way, unfortunately.

      Also, it had a theoretical range of about 30 miles, if I remember correctly. My stepson never ran it out of juice, though.


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