A little-known Chinese electric vehicle maker is breaking into some of the world’s hardest-to-crack markets. Its strategy? Tiny cars.
Five-year-old Kaiyun Motors said it has started selling electric pickups in May to Europe and the US—albeit less than 100 in total. That makes the firm first among at least six electric vehicle Chinese startups that have set their sights on sales in the two markets as auto sales decline at home.
Kaiyun’s selling its “Pickman” model, a pared-down form of EV with a maximum speed of under 30 miles per hour. Kaiyun said so far it has sold around 40 of the cars to the US, mostly in California, and 30 to France, Spain, and Sweden. Kaiyun said it aims to sell between 3,000 to 4,000 cars in the US by the end of 2020, but said it’s “conservative” when it comes to forecasting a figure for sales in Europe.
The starting price of the Pickman in the US is $7,999, including a 25% import tax. It’s about the same price in Europe, where it’s subject to zero tax. The caveat, however, is Europeans can’t drive the model on public roads yet, and the firm needs to make modifications to the model.
“Mini-electric vehicles are more than enough to meet consumers’ daily needs,” Wang Chao, founder of Kaiyun, told Bloomberg (paywall) in an interview in January, when he announced the firm had approval to sell in the US.
The category of low-speed electric vehicles, which come with cheaper lead-acid batteries, is very popular in China, which saw nearly 1.8 million such cars sold in 2017. That’s double the number of regular electric cars, such as Teslas, sold in China in the same year. The firm said it sold around 4,900 units of the Pickman in China this year.
Kaiyun’s strategy is not unlike the approach of BYD, the world’s largest electric vehicle maker (membership exclusive). BYD also isn’t selling passenger vehicles overseas, a sector in which it would face fierce competition from well-known brands like Tesla, and more recently Audi and Mercedes-Benz. It has several times postponed plans to sell electric cars to Europe and the US, but is moving along with electric buses.
Of course, Pickman can’t do everything that a bigger, gasoline-powered pickup like the 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 of as much as 1,000 kg. But the Pickman’s way cheaper than the F-150’s starting price of $28,000, and can handle trips around large construction sites, plants, and farms.