When it comes to electric cars, arguably the most important number is the range. How far can the car go between charging is a much bigger deal in the real world than the 0-60 time or top speed or how many BPMs the vibrating seats will do or anything like that. Range is king. Which is why I really had to find out the actual, real-world range of the cheapest car in the world, the Changli I bought on Alibaba.
Oh, I should also mention that while I’ve been calling the car the Changli NEMECA, an acronym for New Energy Mini Electric Car for Adults, as it was shown on the Alibaba site, I just found the original Changli site that seems to call the car the Freeman!
The Freeman! I had no idea! How evocative and powerful a name! OK, Freeman it is!
I’ve been driving the Freeman around a pretty good bit, getting used to how the tiny car drives and handles, and the best methods for driving it, which seem to be treating the throttle almost like an on/off switch. I’ve very rarely encountered situations where I don’t want every one of the, um, mostly one horsepower to do its job.
Up until this weekend I’ve been just plugging the Changli in after every bout of driving, so the battery indicator on the dash really never got a chance to drop at all, and I got no sense of the actual range one could squeeze out of the five 12 volt batteries crammed under the seat.
The cheapest new electric car in the world, the $US1,200 ($1,741) ($US1,715 ($2,488)) Changli Nemeca from Chinese e-commerce website Alibaba, is a truly amazing machine. This became clear as soon as my coworker Jason Torchinsky unboxed the car and saw its unexpected features, and even more so when he drove it. But...Read more
This time, though, would be different. Starting on Friday, I unplugged the Changli and vowed to not plug it back in until I’d sucked every last electron out of its batteries so I could see just how far one could go on a charge.
The “official” numbers given for the Changli’s range are hilariously vague, though, to be fair, the idea that an EV will have one hard number for range it can hit is absurd, too. It’s always going to be a range of numbers, if we’re honest, because there’s just so many factors that can affect the overall distance travelled per charge.
That said, I think something more specific than this would be good:
So, they officially say 40 to 100 km of range, which is, of course, an insane spread. It’ll either go this far, or maybe almost three times that far? I can’t work or plan anything with that shit.
So, I had to find out for myself. To do this, I started by taking a few longer trips in the Changli, errands to the grocery store and other destinations in town, round trips of about six to eight kilometres, then, as the battery indicator dipped below the halfway mark, I switched to a series of looping paths around my neighbourhood streets, so if I ran out of juice, I wouldn’t have too far to push the Changli home.
While the Changli does have an odometer — really, it’s more of a trip odometer, as it resets itself every time the car it turned off and on — I used a GPS app on my phone that records speed and distance.
Thanks to the app, I was also able to finally see how fast the Changli would go. While there is a speedometer on the dash, it doesn’t work at all, going from 0 kph to 40-something, and that’s about it.
I know people online in the comments of our Changli videos have speculated (or even sometimes, incredibly, insisted) that the speedo display is really showing range, but I promise you it is not.
It’s clearly labelled “Km/h” and despite being made by the Yvxin brand we all know and trust, does not reliably indicate speed at all. Well, except for 00 Km/h. That speed is accurate.
Using the speedometer app on my phone, I determined the highest indicated speed seen during my test as a blistering 37 km/h.
It’s not too bad, really; most of the time I could keep up speeds between 15 and 32 km/h, and the uphill slogs that felt like a walking pace proved to actually be a slightly-better-than-walking 13 km/h or so. Downhills frequently were around 35 km/h or so, and I’m sure more is possible, given a steep enough hill and nerves of a drugged fighter pilot.
Regarding the battery indicator itself, like almost every EV I’ve ever driven, it’s not really all that accurate, I don’t think. The first block took seemingly forever to drop away, and then subsequent blocks disappeared much more rapidly.
Also, blocks would re-appear once the car had a few moments of rest, which made me realise the only way to get a true reading was when the throttle was at the floor (which it almost always is) and when you were really pushing the motor, like when cresting a hill.
In these moments of full load, the battery indicator would give its worst-case scenario, which I think was more accurate than the Pollyannaish block-reimbursement scheme the gauge likes to engage in.
My test plan I think was pretty good — there were the initial, purposeful trips, and the neighbourhood test route included a good mix of hills, steep and gradual, flat areas, stop-and-start parts, and I did about 20 per cent of these at night, with all the lights on, about 10 per cent in rain, with wipers on, and all of it with the radio blasting, playing MP3s from a USB drive that plugged right in without any trouble at all.
The MP3 player is pretty basic, starting at the beginning of the directory every time you turn on the car, so before I could get to any of the many Pixies albums I put on there, I started every drive with Dolly Parton’s heartfelt and powerful plea to that cruel beauty, Jolene:
Come on, Jolene, I know your voice is as soft as summer rain, but, please, don’t take her man.
So, I feel like the driving I did was realistic in terms of the sorts of conditions and situations likely to be encountered in normal driving. I could have found a nice flat area and hypermiled it, but who would that have served? Nobody.
Also during my tests I varied up the car’s load, taking Otto on a few laps, a load of groceries, and, at one point, hauling an old CRT TV I picked up from the side of the road because I’m an absolute idiot and I’ll use it for some old ‘80s computer or game system.
Just to be clear: I’m an idiot.
OK, enough explaining, you need to see the results, already! Are you ready? Take a moment. Breathe. Have a seat. Here we go:
There it is: 45 km! That comes to 44.7 kilometers, so on the low side, but within the range given by Changli. I bet a slightly less hilly route could have gotten this to 48 kilometres, but by the time I was over 42 km hill climbing got really, really slow and I finally called it when the Changli began to cut out, though I was able to coast home, luckily.
Honestly, almost 45 km isn’t bad at all. An ABC news poll pegged the average daily commute for Americans at 26 km, which means that the Changli Freeman would just barely miss that if you didn’t charge it at work, but depending on the route, it might just make it, too.
If you could charge a bit at work, it’d do it no problem.
For a $US1,200 ($1,741) vehicle with cheap lead-acid batteries, it’s decent, especially if you remember that the first-generation Nissan Leafs only did 117 km per charge, and a 2018 Smart EV only managed 90 or so kilometres per charge.
I mean, sure those cars can do highway speeds and all that, but are they $US1,200 ($1,741)? Well, not new they weren’t but I bet you could pick up one of those relatively unloved EVs cheap now.
Still, I’m impressed with the Changli, yet again. For this little runabout’s capabilities and intentions, the range seems absolutely usable. And, it seems this is on par with the range of an average golf cart, which, again, the Changli is much, much cheaper.
This is why I’d rather push a Changli than drive an EZ-Go, people.