Last week, the internet went all giggly over the first prototype of a revolutionary traffic-straddling bus from China. There’s some distressing news coming out now about both the shoddy build quality of the test unit, and the possibility that the whole enterprise may just be a big scam. What’s going on?

Our pals over at Car News China have some close-up shots of the bus, the test track, and the test station that were built in Beidaihe, a beach district of the city of Qinghuandao in Hebei Province. The pictures don’t exactly instill a lot of confidence:

Car News China seems a little appalled that the straddle-bus is using rubber tires in a simple channel (more like a narrow, mud-choked concrete trench, really) as opposed to an actual track, though I got the impression from the engineering materials that rubber road tires were always part of the plan. I saw where tracks were an option, but I think the end goal was to make something that could operate on normal roads.

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Even if we accept that the rubber tires were part of the deal, CNC is right that the whole thing looks a lot sketchier up close. The station paint is already peeling, the construction looks rushed (the station was built within two months, they say), and the presence of components like a home A/C unit don’t exactly suggest a high-tech enterprise.

Still, it’s just a prototype, right? Prototypes are by nature works-in-progress; this may not really be any cause for concern, since this was, as the company now states, just a test of acceleration and braking systems.

That may offer explanation about the rough look of the prototype, but that doesn’t really help with the accusations from two Chinese state media outlets that are suggesting that the whole TEB project is just a big scam to bilk investors out of money.

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Chinese state media alleges that (via terrible robo-translation):

“In addition, the “iron bar” chief architect Song Youzhou only [has] primary school level [education]...”

and goes on to warn that:

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“the most important is that behind the “iron bar” project is actually doing a P2P network of financial companies in the financial operation, but the company has been to attract investors deposit, and promised to return to high interest rates, but the money chain high risk ..

Therefore, when the upright brother to remind you, do not blindly be affected by some of the mainstream media, too “credulous” bar iron reported to be careful - especially ordinary family people do not take their own money to invest in this project.”

“Bar iron” or “iron bar” is a literal translation of the name from Chinese, but is probably better rendered as “rail bus.”

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The report also laments the apparent lack of groundbreaking technology in either the prototype or the station, and goes so far as to speculate that the whole running gear of the TEB Straddle Bus is just, in fact, that of a large mobile iron gantry crane.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about whether or not the TEB was supposed to be a road-going bus, or a rail-going train. Popular Mechanics seems appalled that the TEB is on rails, and not a road-going bus:

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To top all this off, the Transit Elevated Bus isn’t even a bus. It runs on tracks, so it is, in fact, a train.

... while Car News China is upset by the exact opposite:

The biggest news: the TEB-1 doesn’t really run on rails. It runs on wheels. Rubber wheels. Like a… bus.

So maybe the company is doomed because they’ve done a bad job of explaining just how the hell this thing is supposed to drive, like a bus or a train. Pop Mech and Car News China should read one another’s articles and they’d feel like everything was solved.

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So, what actually is going on? From my perspective, I can sort of accept the slipshod look of the station and prototype TEB Straddle Bus. These are early protoypes and tests, so perhaps a high level of polish just isn’t needed at this point. Maybe.

Maybe it’s also really just a re-bodied gantry crane, and the whole thing was slapped together to get more investment money, which the company will eventually disappear with.

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We’ll keep an eye on it all, and hopefully the truth will come out, somehow.