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Tiny car for big jobs.
Image: Kaiyun Motors

China already sells more electric vehicles than the rest of the world combined. And there’s a long list of the categories you can choose from—including large buses, sports cars, two-wheeled motorcycles, and zippy scooters.

One of the hottest categories in that list is “tiny cars.” These mini-vehicles can cost as little as $1,000 and, in China at least, you don’t even need a driver’s license to use them. The catch? Their top speed is less than 40 miles per hour, they run on cheap lead-acid batteries, and they have little to no crash protection.

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That’s not much of a concern for Chinese users, who are buying these low-speed electric vehicles (LSEVs) like hot cakes.

Four-year-old electric vehicle maker Kaiyun Motors thinks that it can tempt Americans and Europeans to buy into the craze. “Mini-electric vehicles are more than enough to meet consumers’ daily needs,” Wang Chao, founder of Kaiyun, told Bloomberg (paywall). There is a huge market out there around the world.”


Kaiyun will start selling its “Pickman” electric pickup in the US, Germany, and Italy as soon as next month.  The base Chinese model sells for 16,800 yuan ($2,500). The US version will start at $8,950, Fox News reports.

These are not snazzy, high-end vehicles, and their marketing isn’t either. A promotional video for the Pickman features a young, hoodie-wearing Chinese narrator plainly explaining the car’s unique features. The pickup comes in six colors, boasts off-road capability, and can fit a “family of three,” according to the video. It has a range of 120 km (75 miles) on a single charge. The battery takes up to ten hours to charge. The Pickman’s top speed is 45 km per hour (28 miles per hour), and it has a payload capacity of 450 kg.

For comparison, top-end electric cars like Tesla Model S can go for more than 480 km (300 miles) on a single charge, can fast charge lithium-ion batteries to 100% in 75 mins, and boast top speeds of 240 km per hour (150 miles per hour). The top model costs more than $90,000.

And if we compare within Pickman’s category, the gasoline version of the Ford F-150 pickup starts at $28,000 and its upcoming electric version is rumored to start at $70,000. The Pickman can’t do everything that a Ford F-150 can do—such as travel at a top speed of 160 km per hour (100 miles per hour) and carry a payload as much as 1,000 kg. But it still has potential for use on farms or construction sites, where the car can be used in the day and put to charge at night at a lower cost than a gas-guzzling truck.


Looking for more in-depth coverage? Sign up to become a member and read more in-depth coverage of China’s electric-car boom in our field guide.