PHOTO CAPTION: Lichi A01 low-speed electric car costs under $8,000 and has top speed of 30 mph.

China's Amazing Low-Speed Electric Car Market

When highway-capable electric cars are too expensive and too difficult to acquire for the average family in China, there's an affordable alternative emerging: low-speed electric models.

Published: 14-Apr-2015

Here's a couple of intriguing numbers for you. In 2014, Chinese drivers bought 84,000 highway-capable electric cars and hybrids. The same year, their compatriots bought 400,000 'low-speed' EVs like the Lichi A01 pictured above. Typically costing less than the equivalent of $8,000US (the A01 is priced at RMB 46,800/$7,528USD), these micro cars are used primarily for urban travel or getting into town from rural communities. By way of a price comparison, the new Denza, the all-electric sedan jointly developed by BYD and Daimler stickers for RMB 369,000, nearly eight times the price of the Lichi.

Like the early days of the automobile industry a century ago when there were scores of small manufacturers, there are an estimated 100 low-speed electric car manufacturers in China, according to Forbes, which adds...

By definition, low-speed EVs have a top speed of 80 kilometers, or 48 miles, per hour. Because they are designed for short, quick trips around the city, the distance that can be traveled on a single charge is also not an issue. Once the requirements for speed and range are relaxed, a much lower-cost lead acid battery, rather than an expensive lithium ion battery, can be used. As a result, low-speed EVs can be sold profitably for between $3,000 and $8,000 per car.

There are already some 1 million such vehicles in China.

Those 100 manufacturers sense a potentially huge market for these cars, especially in China's smaller tier cities. Observes Forbes, there are some "90 million motorcycles and 120 million electric bicycles now being utilized in China..."; all of them representing potential upmarket sales. The industry is estimating the market will grow 50% in 2015 to 600,000 sales. By 2020, this is predicted to increase to 1 million units, for a total value of RMB 100 billion ($16.1USD billion).

As investment research company Sanford C. Bernstein speculates, some of the estimated RMB 15 billion ($2.4 billion) invested by manufacturers in low-speed EV manufacturing plants in China in 2013 could someday be utilized to produce Apple's rumored iCar.

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Pair of GEM E2 neighborhood electric vehicles or NEVs.

Known as NEV's, these low-speed electric vehicles resemble golf cars, but offer a bit more speed and boost safety features not found on the links version.

GEM neighborhood electric vehicle or NEV

Golf cars and neighborhood electric vehicles or NEVs are becoming popular alternatives in planned communities.


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