Big In China: Cheap, Tiny Electric Cars


The world’s biggest EV market is highly fond of small electric vehicles.

If we’re to tell you that 1.75 million EVs were sold in China in 2017, you probably wouldn’t be that surprised. After all, the Chinese market is one of the biggest when it comes to electric vehicles. However, the aforementioned number stands for something other than full-fledged electric vehicles. It correlates to the number of LSEVs (Low-Speed Electric Vehicles) sold in the world’s most populous country. The small, slow and super cheap vehicles are taking over the country, especially in the rural areas. While they are bringing the thrill of driving to the masses, they are also hampering the government’s efforts to develop an upscale EV industry.

These small electric vehicles are simple to build, easy to maintain and they don’t cost much. Some can be even be acquired for as low as $1,500 – and that’s dirt cheap. However, these don’t adhere to current full-size vehicle safety standards, they provide almost no protection to their passengers and some even use substandard lead-acid batteries, creating an environmental problem of their own. In turn, some Chinese cities have already banned LSEVs due to safety concerns and we’re confident more are to follow.

For China, regulating this market will be key to their long-term environmental goals. These cars may be providing the means to transportation for a lot of Chinese, but they are also adding to the growing transportation problem the Chinese cities are facing currently. Many Chinese are opting-in for these small electric cars instead of using the public transport system, pushing even more vehicles onto the already overstrained roads.

With safety concerns, environmental impacts and the general frowned upon look from the Chinese government, LSEVs will need to revolutionize themselves in order to stay relevant & up to date with all current and future governmental regulations. Grab a look at the full report on the LSEVs done by WSJ right below.

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31 Comments on "Big In China: Cheap, Tiny Electric Cars"

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Great! Efficient, cheap and clean. Not to be confused with the real cars (called NEVs) that sold ~600k last year and ~1,2 million this year.

Not all private four wheel vehicles need to be 2 ton monsters.

Some basic safety should IMO be mandatory – at least enough that low-speed collisions would not result in serious injuries and deaths.

There are safety rules for NEVs. They have to have all the same indicator lights. And they have to have seat belts. Are they super-safe? No. Are they reasonably safe for 25 mph collisions. Probably.

It is much safer than your average moped. But of course, safety is always important.

Oh, I think the Narator’s point-of-view here is Grotesque. Not everyone can afford a full electric vehicle, and these $1000- $1500 vehicles are, for some, the first motorcar they could EVER afford.

In rural areas of China where the annual income is much much less than in the Signature Cities, these vehicles are a perfectly fine ELECTRIC solution, and really, since every car has a Lead-Acid battery of some sort (even Teslas) why call it ‘sub-standard’?

If powered by a small neighborhood solar installation or small wind farm, the rural community will STAY CLEAN and have clean air to breathe, since it is obvious the corn-popper polluting lawn mower engines such inexpensive vehicles would otherwise use couldn’t possibly meet Worldwide Clean Air Benchmarks as their much more expensive brethren do.

“…since every car has a Lead-Acid battery of some sort (even Teslas) why call it ‘sub-standard’?”

Seriously, that’s your argument?

If the article calls using lead-acid batteries in an EV’s traction battery pack “sub-standard”, it’s because they are sub-standard for the main battery pack, and have been for many years now.

I used to read arguments on forums for EV conversion enthusiasts — this was back in the days before the Tesla Model S — arguments over whether it was better to use deep-cycle lead-acid batteries or li-ion batteries, which at that time were far more expensive than they are now. The argument was that if you were gonna use the conversion EV long enough that you’d have to replace lead-acid batteries twice, it was cheaper to start with li-ion in the first place.

These days, of course, with li-ion batteries having dropped so far in price, no reasonable person would argue in favor of lead-acid batteries. If some Chinese EV makers are still using the old tech, it’s either an indication they don’t expect the car to last more than 2-3 years, or else — more likely — it’s a case of being “penny wise and pound foolish”.

Another ignorant comment. My current lawnmower has Lithium-Ion batteries. Unfortunately its cost is over $1000 with the 3 batteries I have to use to cut my rather large lawn – its a non-self-propelled Snapper that has adequate power (1 hp) compared to that Horrid Toro E-cycler with its 1/3 hp motor that was constantly stalling. That machine had lead-acid batteries and is still being used by a friend even after being 5 years old. It was much cheaper. L-I batteries are nice but they are expensive. There are lately L-I powered Snow Blowers but those things are just toys as they cannot last at any reasonable price. It would be possible to make a cost-effective Snow Blower that had a reasonable running time, but it would have PbA batteries if it was to be at all affordable. MEAN GREEN MACHINES makes commercial ‘stand behind’ mowers for the commercial landscapers that have decent L-I batteries in them, but plan on spending $14,000 to start, and then several thousand more if you want more ‘range’. PbA batteries are not Sub-Standard – its merely what can people afford – and it is ARROGANT of you to think that everyone must do what you… Read more »

Thee safety argument doesn’t hold water, either. NEVs aren’t crash tested and in many states you can drive unmodified golf carts with no seat belts or anything on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or below.

That doesn’t make the argument invalid…

We bought a Bolt because we knew that it was the cheapest, smallest EV that will ever be sold in the US, that does everything suburbanites need. Notice I said need, not want. Suburbanites want the world. And they are busily eating it all.

If we Americans could get our heads out of our posteriors, we could set a better example for the rest of the world to strive for than we have in my lifetime.

Aren’t you the guy who keeps preaching that everybody should give up owning cars?

Why don’t you practice what you preach, dude? They say “Charity begins at home”. So does treating the Earth gently.

There are no such thing as green cars although some are much much greener than others…
In the end giving up ones car is futile unless the whole world decides to do the same…
And it is safe to say almost no one in a first world country treads on the Earth gently…

Busted! I am that guy. I will say that before the end of this century everybody but warlords will give up cars, but not by choice.

Uh, all we NEED is oxygen, water, food, and rudimentary shelter from the elements.

Compared to the bikes and motor cycles, motor scooters, these vehicles are lot more safer and can protect the passengers from heat, rain, snow besides protecting our wares.

And the cost is lot more affordable with a simple motor, lead battery and electricity that is lot more cheaper than gasoline. Very little maintenance. I don’t think their provinces can ban them.

Instead the manufacturers can be directed to add safety features like seat belts, ABS and also make only 4 wheeled vehicles since 3 wheeled are not very safe. Whether its a 2 seater / 4 seater I will still support the sales of these vehicles. Even with a lead battery they are far more cleaner than the gasmobiles sold in USA or dieselmobiles sold in Europe.

The issue is, once you start adding serious safety features, the prices will quickly explode to several times what it is now, and much closer to “proper” car territory…

I wonder if this is what Musk was talking about when he said Tesla could make a mini car.

“We’re working on a new Tesla mini-car that can squeeze in an adult” – Musk

An EV specifically for the China market.

I doubt Tesla has any intention of trying to compete with $1,500 Chinese LSEVs…

Tiny cheap little electric cars can be awesome. Think of all the golf carts & NEVs in retirement communities. Think of replacing all those horrible polluting 2-stroke Tuk-tuks in south Asia.

You don’t want one…fine. But small lightweight EVs will be a huge factor in EVs taking over the world even if they are only a small player in the USA.

Okay, so the concerns are that these LSEVs are unsafe. But in a country the same size as the US with 4 times the people and an oppressive government, a $1000 electric car can have huge value. The capitalist solution would be to make “full” electric cars better, more appealing, and more affordable. The communist solution seems to be attempt to regulate them out of existance.

In your capitalist solution, one fatality, one court case, and the whole model is wrecked.

“If we’re to tell you that 1.75 million EVs were sold in China in 2017, you probably wouldn’t be that surprised.”

There are also about 200 million electric scooters in China.

So, yes, I think that’s possible.

It means that there is demand for this kind of transportation in China.

People buy what they need, and what works for them, and what is available, and what they can afford.

It looks practical. For use in neighborhoods. To go and buy some groceries.

So, yes, let them have it.

Just let them switch to Lithium-Ion Battery Packs.

I don’t understand why (Well, yes I can understand geopolitics) Mahindra isn’t licencing the Reva e20 or the e20 plus 4 seater in China? It’s a perfect, cheap EV, it made the G-Wiz ffs!

So grateful I don’t live in China.

Another Euro point of view

Chinese manufacturers are seemingly good at everything that pertains to EV, those cheap EVs but also high end EV SUV (Nio ES8 ) plus trucks & buses (BYD). EV world is a bit schizophrenic actually with on one side the Anglo Saxon specialized EV press/sites covering one single EV maker in like 50% of their articles and on the other side the silent world largest EV market where said EV maker sales figures are a rounding error (like 400 out of 192’000 if not mistaken as per August figures).
There is nothing wrong with the anglo saxon sites editorial line as it strictly corresponds to their readers demand but hardly corresponding to the reality of global EV market and difference will probably never increasing as from now. Now my usual fans with a tunnel vision issue can start casting stones at me, I am logging off for the day 😛

Do Not Read Between The Lines

I’ll reserve judgment on how good they are until the point they’re selling those “seriously good” EVs in developed countries in significant numbers.

What’s your point? That English-language publications chiefly cover EVs available to people reading English-language sites, and not EVs available exclusively to people reading Chinese sites?…

Makes sense, would love to have one for local driving, throw in a nice Lithium battery, bit bigger motor, quick charge, the possibilities are all over the place.
As far as safety, your car is only as safe as the nut behind the wheel in any car.

Then go buy one. It’s not like the rest of the world doesn’t have LSEVs — it’s just that unlike in China, they are a rare oddity rather than mainstream transportation…

“Sub-Standard lead acid batteries”. China is a great untapped market for used Leaf’s then…