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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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