You’ve all been so very patient, but, finally, it’s time. The world’s cheapest new electric car you can buy has been ordered from Alibaba, shipped over from China, trucked to my house, unboxed, and now it’s finally time to see if this ridiculous thing actually drives. Are you excited? Of course you are; you’re human. So go ahead and watch that video up there and see for yourself.
(We’re taking today to celebrate Juneteenth, a day on which we celebrate the emancipation of Black people who were held as slaves in the United States. We will be celebrating, but we will also be taking time to reflect on the history and legacy of slavery, as well as the ongoing structural, institutional and systemic anti-Black racism that continues to be a defining characteristic of the United States today.)
Like all of my experiences with the Changli so far, I’m genuinely surprised at how much better it is than I was expecting. It drives! It drives in a perfectly usable manner, not quickly at all, no, God no, but for a neighborhood vehicle, it absolutely works.
I mean, yeah, we got it stuck in the mud almost immediately, but David and I just lifted the back up onto the bricks and were good to go.
It drives without feeling like you’re in an overturned recycling bin propelled by a blender with a stale bagel stuck on the blades, which is what I was expecting. Instead, it feels like you’re in...a car! It’s not rattling itself apart, it’s not uncomfortable, the handling is predictable, the brakes work, all that!
The fact that this $930 (okay, okay $1,200 with batteries) car has a working backup camera is staggering to me, as is the fact that it has a radio and a heater (we didn’t realize this until after we shot the video, but that switch on the dash by the shifter is connected to a little electric heater), the fact that it has anything that can be considered a luxury or option is incredible.
The Changli also comes standard with one pretty colossal Achilles heel, though: that 1.1 horsepower motor.
On flat roads, it’s actually fine, acceleration is usable, top speed seems around 20 MPH or so, all good enough for a low-speed neighborhood electric vehicle.
Once you hit a hill, though, the reality of physics and the cruel grip of gravity make themselves known. With three people inside (this was tested with two adults and a kid and three adults) the Changli takes hills at a walking pace, at best.
Even with one person inside, a steep hill will slow the Changli dramatically, especially if you’re starting uphill. In a race with my 9 year-old son Otto up a hill, that little kook beat me easily behind the wheel of the Changli. Then he did a cruel victory dance, as you can see in the video.
So far it’s never completely stopped up a steep hill, but it’s felt like it’s come close.
I think this could be an easy problem to solve, though, as electric motors with triple the horsepower are available for not much money, so maybe I’ll look into hot-rodding this little beast.
Until then, this thing has been a blast to tool around in. You drive it flat out, all the time, really. I know there’s a potentiometer or something on the throttle pedal, but honestly it could almost be an on-off switch.
We even went and picked up some lunch after this first drive, parking it in a real parking lot at a real restaurant, and it all worked just fine, which, given the context of what this thing is, I think is a remarkable achievement.
It works. It’s a staggeringly cheap electric car you can buy from an online site that sells $10 smartwatches and it actually works and drives. It’s an incredible thing.
Tomorrow, we’ll dig into the tech of the Changli, and there’ll be more coming after that. We’re just getting started, pals.