As you know, very soon I’ll be the owner of a brand-new Changli electric car, which is a kind of low-speed mobility vehicle from China that seems to be considered an “old man car” over there. There’s a shocking amount of companies building strange little cars like this, and the show Big Crazy Car had an episode pitting three of them against each other, Top Gear-style. The results are, um, mind-bendingly good. And terrifying.
There’s a whole mostly unregulated automotive category in China for these low-speed vehicles, and they’re very popular in rural areas and among, I’m told, old people. There’s a good bit of controversy surrounding them since their legal status isn’t always clear. There are some obvious safety concerns, and, most fun, lots of them are gleeful, cartoonish knockoffs of other cars, like that hilarious “Bugatti” up there.
As the description for the video says (via robo-translation):
The scooter in the old age has always been a hot topic in the society. Whether it is its legality or safety, it has received a lot of controversy, but this scooter is indeed very suitable in certain urban areas. How reliable is the scooter called “Old Man Le”? What kind of toss can bear? In this episode of “The Big Crazy Car”, three crazy people will go to Shandong, and they have good intentions to buy each.
These three loons absolutely beat the shit out of these cars, and it’s pretty amazing to watch. Here, watch for yourself:
This makes me a big Big Crazy Car fan, and I didn’t understand a word of what was said.
The three cars are good examples of the three general types of these things: there’s that stumpy orange one that’s closest to the one I’m getting, I think—it’s tiny with tall, cartoonish proportions and is, I think, weirdly appealing. It’s an EV, and despite its tendency to tip, I think it ends up holding up surprisingly well under the various tortures. This seems to be representative of a whole class of electric cars with similar minuscule proportions, designed to be urban errand-runners, I guess?
Next is the category of the more car-like three-wheelers. This red one has a very VW Golf-like face, and is rear-engined, with what seems to be a gasoline motor instead of an electric one.
In some ways it seems the most refined of the three, and closest to a “real” car, except for the lack of that fourth wheel. It has its lone wheel in the Reliant Robin tricycle-type arrangement, which, as you can see, has some pretty severe inherent stability issues.
Then there’s that amazing Bugatti Chiron-like car, which is branded XLT. It’s by far the most hilarious of the three, and the build quality seems the dodgiest, and the interior seems oddly cramped. I think it’s electric, too? (Correction: a commenter pointed me to the scene I missed where they show the small, gasoline lawnmower-type engine tucked under the hood up front!)
Still, look at it! Eight headlights!
They show how much each one costs, too, which is also fascinating. The “Bugatti” was ¥35,600 which comes to $4,992 in US dollars, the red three-wheeler was ¥22,100 ($3,099), and the little orange one—which is also the only one I’ve identified the make and model of, a Dayang Chok—was ¥27,800, or $3,898.
That Dayang Chok has a range of 93 miles and can do about 30 mph, which really isn’t too bad. Overall, that red gasoline three-wheeler actually seems like the best deal. If you drove it with an understanding of the limits of a three-wheeler, it seems like it could be an actually useful little car.
This is an amazing sub-category of cars we simply don’t have in America, and I love seeing people having ridiculous, dangerous fun with these things.
Are there racing series for these yet? There should be.