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China's Commuters Charging to Cheap 'Knockoff' Electric Cars


China's car-crazy commuters are increasingly opting for an economical alternative to big-name, high-priced auto brands. Shanzhai (“knockoff”) electric cars charge up overnight, can be driven over 100 km per day, and cost well under $3,000.

Highways and biways in China's big cities are flush with international auto brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Buick – a reflection of Chinese society's upward mobility. Look beyond Beijing, Shanghai and other urban economic engines and you'll find a different kind of mobility characterized by electric bicycles and tricycles. Don't look now, but China's boondocks are, like The Jefferson's, “movin' on up.”

Though prosperity is undoubtedly trickling down to China's smaller cities and rural towns, the flow is slow and drivers simply can't afford to buy the big brands.

Fuel costs are also a concern, but the upside of pricey gas is an acceptance and familiarity with electric vehicles. Hundreds of small workshops are doing a brisk business selling, repairing and servicing these thrifty vehicles and now they're taking the next step: building their own no-brand electric cars.

This investigative video from Jimmy Wang highlights the boom in Shanzhai electric cars and profiles a few of the budding entrepreneurs who are “driving” the phenomenon.

So-called “Shanzhai” (Chinese for “knockoff”) electric cars have become so popular Chinese provincial towns like Liaocheng in Shandong province, governmental authorities have begun issuing licenses for them. There's still some confusion over whether to classify these vehicles, some of which have three wheels, as cars or motorcycles but buyers aren't waiting around for a decision.





“Last year we made around 700 cars,” explains Xu Shoukang, President and General Manager of Shandong Cestar Electric Vehicle Co. Ltd., “but because future policy is up in the air, we only produce what's ordered. People are already beginning to accept these electric vehicles, as the most important thing here is cost and practicality.”

Cost especially – in Jimmy Yang's video, a prospective customer checking out the floor model - a shiny white three-wheeler - says “This is not much” when he's told it costs 12,800 RMB (about $1,876). Would such vehicles sell in Europe and the U.S.? Consider that the much-ballyhooed 2011 Chevrolet Volt starts at $40,280 excluding the usual charges and taxes. Sure, the Volt's a hybrid and all, but urban and even suburban commuters might take a hard look at a 2011 Cestar and think it's a real steal of a 3-wheel deal. (via China Green, TTNet, and ChinaBizGov)

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May 16, 2011
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