I Ordered A Brand-New Chinese $1,500 EV Online

Everyone, everyone, drop the that damp bag of pizza rolls and emerge from your social-distancing pillow-and-blanket forts, because I have good, non-Coronavirus-related news! As part of a bold new experiment, I have bought a new car! Finally! And not just any car—with our eyes boldly open to the future, we’ve bought an electric car. Not some boring Tesla or something, either. Something much better. A $US900 ($1,468) EV bought off the giant online shopping website Alibaba.

That’s right, a car bought online from the same website I bought some knockoff video game stuff and a $10 smartwatch. My goal is to find out exactly what is involved in ordering something like this, to see if there’s any need to register it (there is—I’ll register it in my name like any car, and it fits into the Low-Speed Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle category, spoiler alert) and to see just how much you can use a sub-$1,500 electric car in actual, daily life. Because I’m sure as hell going to try.

Let me tell you a bit about this amazing vehicle first; it’s built by the Changzhou Changli Vehicle Factory, which was founded in 1996. I guess we’ll call it a Changli, as the brand, and as close as I can tell, the model name seems to be the New Energy Mini Electric Car for Adults. I guess for our purposes we can use the acronym NEMECA, why not? So, everyone, please welcome the Changli NEMECA.

Much like the new Tesla Model Y—the car I think I’ll be using as my baseline to compare against—the NEMECA is a sort of a crossover-ish design, with what appears to be a nice, upright “command seating position” and an overall tall wagon sort of design.

The styling, is, as you can see, quite modern and understated and sleek, with a surprisingly aggressive front-end treatment including a bold grille in what I can only assume is real, genuine chrome, custom-shaped headlamps and some easily bicycle-grade reflectors.

You know it’s very safe because of those huge bull-bar-style bumpers; also note the Continental-style spare tire carrier at the rear, roof rack, front light bar, and some subtle side graphics.

I’m pretty sure anyone would agree this carries at least as much presence and status as a Tesla Model Y, if not more because of those sweet side graphics, which at this moment, Tesla does not even offer for any of their cars.

Don’t forget, starting at $US930 ($1,517) or so, the Changli is about $US38,000 ($61,976) cheaper than the cheapest Tesla Model Y, which is pretty significant.

I chose the Changli because I was looking for the cheapest possible EV that had four wheels and was fully enclosed, like a real car. Now, even though it was only $US930 ($1,517) or so, shipping costs when you buy a 770-pound car are significant; the total price, with shipping to the port of Wilmington, NC, came to $US1,784.00 ($2,910), which is still by far cheaper than any mainstream EV in America today.

And while you may scoff and say that this is just a glorified golf cart, let me point out something. If you were to buy a four-passenger electric golf cart new today, this is what you’d pay:

That’s right: $US9,126 ($14,884). That seems insane to me, and I believe this Changli will prove me right. The Club Car is open, has no windshield or wipers or turn indicators or anything like that—things that are needed to be a Low Speed Neighbourhood Electric Vehicle, a category that the Changli fits into and makes it legal to drive on streets with speed limits below 60 km/h, which covers most of my town.

I’m confident the Changli will kick the shit out of any Club Car, and I think, for in-town driving, will be the match of the Tesla. We’ll have to test and see, of course, but I’m confident.

I’ve put the order in, but it’ll likely take more than a month for the car to get to the port—assuming there’s no Coronavirus-related troubles, too. When it arrives, it’ll look like this, and I’m told I’ll be getting such bonuses as this air compressor thing and a spare tire:

As far as specs on the vehicle go, I’m not entirely certain. I think, fully loaded (that means 300 kg, it looks like?) it’ll do about 32 km/h, and should have a range between 40 to 95 kilometres or so. The motor is said to be 1200W, which should be a ravenous 1.6 HP. I’ll test everything, of course. Maybe I can get it on a dyno?

So far, the ordering process has been easy. You interact, via chat, with a company representative who asks you things like

... I picked red there, and there was even a solar panel option, but I declined.

I’ll need to find a customs clearance company to help sort things out when it arrives, a process I’m unfamiliar with, but I’ll let you know that process as soon as I figure it out. It looks like it’s only a $80 to $160 type fee/service sort of thing?

So, as you can tell, I’m very excited about this. The goal will be to try and use it as my only car for at least a week, and see how it goes. I’ve always wondered about these low-speed EVs that are seemingly all over China, but quite rare here, and I’ve always been amazed you can order actual cars from Alibaba, so I think everything about this process is kind of fascinating.

It’s an interesting basic question, I think: what is a brand-new $US1000 ($1,631) car like?

What would you like to see us do with this thing? What would you like to know about it? I’m open to any questions or suggestions, so have at it.

Oh, and Tesla, if you’re listening: I’m always up for drag races or other competitions. Bring it on.

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