Shipping, Tariffs and Electric Cars

I started looking at electric cars when I was at SDSU – driving a Gem around Brookings was about 90% fun and only probably less than 10% car purchase interest.  When I spotted a youtube video about buying the world’s cheapest car online from Alibaba . . . well, I have some experience in buying cheap cars – in 1990, I bought a 1988 Yugo with 18,000 miles on it.  Paid $999 for it, refusing steadfastly to go into four figures for a disposable car.

The Jalopnik video shows the Changli’s owner was as happy with his purchase as I was when the Yugo turned over 60,000 miles.  The cost of the Changli electric was $930 in China – but shipping and taxes ran the price up to about $3,000 before the little car made it into the US – carefully boxed for shipping, but still showing a bit of shipping damage.

This picture, from Alibaba, showed up at with basically a magazine article for car guys who don’t want the drama of a youtube video.

It’s not the model I’m most interested in – my interest is more in the line of a mini-pickup that I could use on the place and keep charged with a couple of solar panels.  And Changli offers a mini-pickup and a cargo trike that could serve that purpose.  Something that won’t pass 30 mph just doesn’t belong on 93 – so short range isn’t really a major consideration. The ad for the electric cargo tricycle reminds me of the Yugo – they list a price of $9,999, apparently unwilling to go up to five figures.  I can understand that – and the photo comes from

Now I don’t know what it costs the factory in China to turn this little tricycle pickup out. It lacks some of the amenities of the car . . . frankly, I think we could reverse-engineer one and build a factory in Trego.  And I suspect that the amount of money spent on shipping, import duties, etc could be spent on US salaries – the frame looks as simple as a T model, there’s not a lot of special bodywork, and it could be “painted any color you want so long as it is black.”

Then, one more website showed the pickup:  

It’s an attractive little pickup and looks much more sophisticated than the trike-truck.

The author wrote, “The cherry on top was that it was only $2,000! Or at least I thought it was at first.

Of course, nothing on the internet is ever as it seems, even tiny electric trucks. The $2,000 price was legit, but that didn’t include batteries. It was another $300 or so for heavy lead acid batteries, $500 if I wanted a lithium-ion battery pack (3 kWh), $710 for a bigger lithium pack (5 kWh), and $1,050 if I wanted a giant lithium battery (6 kWh).”

I am fairly certain these aren’t Tesla quality.  But the difference in price between China and the land of the big PX is large – and I suspect that tariffs and shipping may make locally built small electrics more attractive.

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