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Cheap electric minicars shine in small, poor cities in China

Cheap electric minicars shine in small, poor cities in China

Electric vehicles tiny ones circulate in the south of Chinawith cheap and colorful models give a touch of flashiness to the revolution of the electric transport in marginalized cities of the country.

China is the world’s largest market for electric cars, with a strong presence of premium models from Tesla and the local giant BYD in the country’s large and wealthy cities.

But in less developed areas, the image of green transportation is the Wuling Hongguang Mini, a small model that sells for a fraction of the price.

Its manufacturer has sold 1.2 million units, making it the most popular electric car in China, purchased by low-income people in small cities.

“This car is small and convenient, easy to park and load, and it’s cheap. That’s why I chose it.”explained a driver surnamed Cao to AFP while loading purchases into her car in Liuzhou, in the southern region of Guangxi. “I mostly use it to pick up the kids, go shopping, and go to work.”added the 47-year-old woman.

Liuzhou, a city of about 4 million people, is better known in China for its mountains and river snail noodles than for its advanced technology.

But locally made mini electric cars have been a hit, with authorities creating charging stations, discounted parking and preferential policies for buyers.

A worker modifies an electric minicar at a workshop in Liuzhou, China. (Photo: AFP)

Another driver, Tang Wenhui, said environmental issues were not his motivation when he paid 60,000 yuan ($8,300) for a new Wuling.

“I simply wanted something to get around town, not necessarily travel long distances,” the 23-year-old programmer told AFP.

“As a recent graduate, it has made my life a little easier.”


According to the manufacturer, the latest Hongguang Mini is three meters long, has space for four people and a lithium battery with a capacity of 215 km on a single charge.

The price starts at 41,800 yuan (US$5,800) and older models are worth about 30,000 yuan, one-eighth the price of the Tesla Model 3. In addition to Wuling, other Chinese manufacturers such as Dongfeng Motor, Chery and Geely have miniature models of electric vehicles.

But Wuling positioned herself among the young women, who call themselves the “Wuling girls”. The cars are cute, with pastel pink and lemon yellow paint, and models named after French pastry shops and Japanese video games.

Many buyers invest in customizing their cars with bright spots, racing stripes, or anime figures. Cao has a bright red car adorned with a large white sticker in the shape of Mickey Mouse, and small stickers of other cartoon characters.

“I see it nice,” the Liuzhou resident told AFP while loading her car. She said her friends did the same.

Tu Le, founder of the consulting firm Sino Auto Insights, pointed out that with the low price “Many people in small towns tend to treat them more like a styling accessory than a vehicle.”

“That is why it is popular to buy products to decorate them and make them unique”he indicated. “But they also provide transportation to the buyer for their daily transportation.”

To the head

China sees electric cars as a critical emerging industry and has increased state aid to the sector as it seeks to become more self-sufficient.

The sector is an important component of China’s commitment to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030 to reduce them to net zero by 2060. The Chinese industry reached a tipping point when local giant BYD overtook Elon Musk’s Tesla as the world’s largest seller of electric cars in the fourth quarter of 2023.

But cheaper models like the Hongguang Mini are “extremely important for the Chinese market”said Tu of Sino Auto Insights. Some potential buyers have expressed online that the cars could be unsafe, due to their lightweight bodywork and lack of airbags.

A driver scans a code to charge her electric car in Liuzhou, China.  (Photo: AFP)
A driver scans a code to charge her electric car in Liuzhou, China. (Photo: AFP)

The absence of charging stations in small towns and the struggle of some manufacturers to be profitable also raise questions about the future of the sector. Still, Tu believes these cars help stem the global trend toward large combustion cars that aggravate traffic and pollution problems.

Besides, “they create options for those who otherwise would not be able to have their own transportation,” he added.

Source: Gestion

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