While Elon Musk and Tesla start the electric car revolution from the high end of the market, Chinese company CHJ Automotive plans to start from the low end. Co-founder Kevin Shen says the company plans to introduce an ultra-compact electric car starting at around $7,800 in 2018. The company is working together with Clem, a French ride-hailing service, to test the cars in Paris.
For those of you who have never had the pleasure of strolling the Champs Elysee on a soft summer night, traffic in Paris is insane. Nobody in their right mind would drive there if they didn’t have to. The same is true in many parts of the world, from Amsterdam to Beijing.
A headline on CNBC calls the company a “Tesla rival,” but that is not accurate. No self-respecting Tesla owner would be caught driving one of these electric microcars. But Teslas are not appropriate for use in many parts of the world, as Shen explains.
“In China, there are 340 million people (who) daily commute with e-scooters, but there is a strong demand for them to upgrade to something. But we cannot imagine all off them driving cars, so we want to give them something else, which is an ultra-compact car.”
Shen is not worried that so few electric cars are currently sold in China. New government regulations will push that number higher very soon. With more than 25 million new cars sold every year in China, “There is a very big market for everybody,” says Shen. It is no coincidence that Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has said his company is working on an electric car for the Chinese market that will sell for less than $8,000.
The as-yet-unnamed car will be about 1 meter wide and 2.5 meters long. Shen says it will have a swappable battery and utilize Google’s Android Auto operation system. It plans to offer the car in Europe as well as China, but only as a ride-sharing vehicle on the Old Continent.
Is the ultra-compact car something we are likely to see in America? That seems unlikely. Being shorter and narrower than a Smart Car, the CHJ offering may be seen as “diminutive” rather than “ultra compact.” In a sea of pickup trucks and SUVs, it might seem too risky to drive on public streets.
But that size disadvantage may make it ideal for places like Mumbai, Tokyo, and any one of China’s 110 cities with a population of more than 1 million. That’s where a tiny, low-performance, cheap electric car may be just the ticket for navigating a thicket of urban congestion and parking woes.