How We Transported The World's Cheapest New Car From China To A Backyard In North Carolina

The Changli Nemeca, possibly the world’s cheapest new electric car, is now in my coworker Jason Torchinsky’s backyard. “How did it get all the way there from China?” you’re probably wondering. Well, it was a hell of a journey.

The incredible Changli electric car started out in Jiangsu, China. That’s almost literally on the other side of the earth from Jason’s house in Chapel Hill:

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We don’t know a whole lot about how the car made its way from the factory onto a ship, or how the vehicle made it from that ship to a warehouse in Wilmington, North Carolina, though Jason did describe a few details in his cost breakdown post, writing:

And even before you get to the customs stage, you have to pay for port fees and handling and unloading costs. In the case of my Changli, even though I was hoping the container ship would go right to the Port of Wilmington, it actually docked in New York, and would then be trucked down to Wilmington.

That ship, by the way, was the Cosco Shipping Lotus, and you can actually find pictures of it and information about it online! What a glorious world we live in!

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Illustration for article titled How We Transported The Worlds Cheapest New Car From China To A Backyard In North Carolina

After the Changli made it to Wilmington from New Jersey (where it was brought after docking in New York, Jason tells me), Jason and I made plans to head to the most badass-ly named warehouse in history—the Cape Fear Bonded Warehouse—in my 1985 Jeep J10.

I’d driven the J10 over 650 miles from my house in Troy, Michigan to Jason’s place in Chapel Hill. And though I did encounter a bit of a speedometer issue, and a bit of pinging from the otherwise beautifully-running 4.2-liter AMC inline-six under the hood, the truck was flawless. Loud and thirsty as hell, but flawless.

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Last Thursday, Jason, his buddy Charles, and I hopped into the truck, drove two and a half hours to Wilmington, and arrived at the warehouse near the coast. Jason and I walked inside, and he spoke with someone who promised to have the Changli ready for loading. After a few minutes, Jason took a first look at his beloved Alibaba car. Sparks flew:

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This is the moment that Jason became a “Changli man,” though the most erudite of scholars argue that he always was one:

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An incredibly talented forklift driver dropped the car off the loading dock, and onto the ground:

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From there, Jason, Charles, and I set about removing the metal frame, as we figured it’d be hard to unload the Changli from the J10's bed unless the wheels were able to roll. Notice how the frame actually bent during shipping:

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That diagonal bar isn’t meant to be jammed up against the back of the Changli:

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Then the forklift operator lifted the car and skillfully placed it onto the 4x8 piece of plywood in the bed of the Jeep:

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Illustration for article titled How We Transported The Worlds Cheapest New Car From China To A Backyard In North Carolina
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To strap the car down, we crossed four ratchet straps from each corner of the pickup truck bed over the top of the car, with straps from opposite corners connecting roughly at the top of the vehicle.

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With those ratcheted down, we tied a single orange strap from a center tie-down location, around the back of the Changli, to the center tie-down on the other side of the bed. This jammed the front of the Changli—which was covered in bubble wrap—against the front of the box as shown above.

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Illustration for article titled How We Transported The Worlds Cheapest New Car From China To A Backyard In North Carolina
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Here’s a look at what the tie-down setup looked like:

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Illustration for article titled How We Transported The Worlds Cheapest New Car From China To A Backyard In North Carolina

I expected the drive back to Chapel Hill to be miserable, since the J10 only makes about 112 horsepower and normally lugs roughly 4,300 pounds of weight. It’s extremely slow, especially with its 2.73 axle ratio; another 700-ish pounds in the bed, I figured, would turn the Jeep into an absolute slug.

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But I barely noticed the difference.

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A reader named Luke had helped us get the Changli strapped down. That’s him in a minty 4x4, manual Toyota Tacoma behind me as we’re driving along bumpy roads that didn’t upset the J10 or the Changli in the least:

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Highway cruising at around 65 mph (if I had to guess, since my speedometer doesn’t work) was no issue whatsoever. The Jeep’s wind noise, primarily caused by the oversize mirrors, is already so bad that the Changli’s height was pretty much unnoticeable. Handling didn’t seem much worse than normal, nor did acceleration.

The truck started out slow and imprecise, and with the Changli in the back, that was still very much the case. The difference was imperceptible because going from awful to more awful is hardly a big jump.

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Though, to be fair, the Jeep’s ride was actually really smooth.

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A look under the loaded truck showed quite a bit of suspension travel left, confirming that this Jeep J10 can haul well over the 700-ish pounds that this Changli weighs. (The J10 is rated at around a ton of payload capacity).

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Other than having to deal with some flooding on the highway, and a tornado warning, the drive home was pleasant.

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Getting the mini-car out from the bed once we arrived in Chapel Hill, though, required a bit of creativity. Jason and I scouted the neighborhood for a suitable loading platform, though we found nothing. We eventually decided to—with the neighbor’s permission—park the J10's rear wheels inside a ditch, which forced the rear bumper into the ground.

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It was a pretty odd scene to look at, I bet—a seemingly crashed pickup truck was spilling a tiny Chinese electric car from its bed—but our plan ultimately worked.

After unstrapping the Changli, Charles, Jason, and I pulled on a nylon tow strap that I’d hooked to the vehicle’s rather flimsy bumper mounts. The EV plopped right out of the truck’s bed.

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Then Charles and I built a little bridge using the plywood board in my truck bed and a few nearby bricks, and we pushed the Changli—with Jason inside—across the ditch and onto the road.

Jason, peering through the small hole he’d cut in the cardboard covering the windshield, piloted the car with limited visibility until it was safely in his backyard:

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So many factors had to come together to make this whole thing work, but Jason pulled it off. And so did my old Jeep J10.

Expect a full review on the Changli in the coming days.

Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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