Here's what the world's cheapest electric car is like to drive

My brother had an auto parts problem with a late-90s Nissan Pathfinder. Parts from models one year older or newer would not fit. Fortunately, we don’t live far from racetracks. We found a mechanic who was able to look at how the exhaust systems changed over time and make a replacement. People with older cars are forced to deal with junkyards and used parts dealers (I was surprised that so many scams exist in that area of the industry).

If 3D printing becomes a cost-effective solution, that would be great. Unfortunately, the goal of the auto industry is to use the carrot and the stick to convince or force people to buy a new car every 5-10 years. My car is nearly 18 years old, so in the near future I might find myself in the same mess that my brother narrowly escaped.


Sometimes it is about the long term durability of parts as well. I owned a 2004 Toyota Corolla with a 5 speed manual. I managed to put 209k miles on it before the transmission failed. If I had been easier on it maybe it would have made 250k. But the failure was going to happen. After looking on Corolla forums it was obvious a C59 transmission with +175k miles was suspect. There are no used ones and if you find one it is more expensive than the vehicle.

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Yeah, my brother got lucky. The entire replacement cost about $900. He kept that car for another three years after the repair. I traded in my first car because the struts failed from dealing with too many potholes. My mechanic told me it would cost about $2,000 to replace them, and the car was barely controllable at that point. I’d already repaired or replaced so much on that car (a Ford), that I wasn’t willing to keep going down that path.

I would love to make my next car an electric model or hybrid. Most of my driving is local and low speed. It’s only during holidays where there would be a need to use highways or turnpikes, and that could be done with a rental if necessary.


Not just [/quote], but COTD!

And once your Tesla goes out of warranty then what?

At least this thing is a fraction of the cost (and if you are this determined you probably know your way around a tool box).

I view things differently. I think modern car are too safe and too helpful. They are not good enough to be autonomous yet each newer model removes more and more of the driver from the equation. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing, but without having interaction with the driving experience how are we to expect drivers to actually be competent. To me things like better brakes and tires are more important that stability control and auto braking systems.

As far as safety, computer design and modeling has helped a great deal. An 80’s econobox just doesn’t have the structure to survive current crash testing. I imagine a good portion of the upgraded weight over the last 40 years has been to increase the strength of the safety cell to be able to with stand various impacts. Even something small like a Smart Car can survive a head on collision.

I think if battery technology could make a couple leaps forward you could have your lighter weight urban vehicle. For the most part displacement determines your power in an ICE setup (or boost with it’s added weight). In an EV you could easily handled a good power to weight ratio with a smaller motor and just limit it’s full power usage. Today most of your weight is in the batteries, fix that and we can get back to sub 2500 lb vehicles.

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Forgive me for playing devil’s advocate for a moment.
I have a limited amount of space for keeping vehicles at my house; we’ve had cars parked on the street get windows broken out for no reason. I’m occasionally asked to move Heavy Objects both for work and on the side. Hence, I have a truck. I’d absolutely love to have something like a Smart car, or a Mini, or some other commute-mobile that gets stupidly good mileage, but I’ve nowhere to put it AND the truck. The area I’m in is also (surprisingly) hostile to motorcyclists, otherwise I’d get that endorsement on my license and get something like a CB500 or CB650 (or the Harley equivalent, to keep my uncle from rising from his grave to haunt me- he’d do it, too :smiley: ) for when I’m required to go back to the office on a daily basis.

Granted, with the current world situation, I’m saving a ton of gas be working from home. :smiley:


I think once people begin to realize the bullcrap commute is pointless and demand more remote work we might see vehicles like this take off. Heck, I knew an old fart that bought one of those smart cars because he was tired of paying so much for gas. He loves the thing.

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I think the battery part is the big problem. A motor that can take hills even if it maxes at 40 MPH it would still be a perfect non-highway vehicle.

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5 years from now i’m sure Tesla (or any other manufacturer) will still be a thing. This random imported vehicle may or may not exist in 5 years, what’s the guarantee that parts can be widely found on Aliexpress or elsewhere? That’s my point, there’s no way to know what the viability of getting such a vehicle is on the convenience of sourcing parts for the average person.

However my previous comment was on the point of view that this would be more up the alley for someone that wants a project to tackle and not the average joe. I personally find the car’s aesthetic somewhat charming, if i had more knowledge about electronics and mechanics i’d be keen on getting one and jazzing it up.


I’m the sort of person hated by most people who drive one-liter Hyundais and claim even “green” and “progressive” people hate them, because I think American cars should run on tiny sips of seawater, produce only beautiful wildflowers as a waste product, and fly. I also think we should never drive them at all, and interstate roadways should be torn up to feed the hungry.

I know two families who claim to be “progressive” but who “need” a “car” to “take them” to “places” that are “miles away” because that’s where they have “jobs” that earn them the “money” they require to “feed” their “families” and “pay” their “rent,” and they can’t afford to “live closer” to their “jobs” because “housing prices” are out of “control.” I know another guy who claims to need a “4-wheel drive vehicle” that won’t “immediately become undriveable” when there’s “snow on the ground” because he lives in a place where “snow” sometimes falls from the “sky” and it’s “unreasonable” to ask his “town of 800 people” to “plow and salt” several hundred miles of “roadway” every time that “happens.” Heck, I even know some people who SAY on FACEBOOK they’re “green” but who didn’t even recycle their big, polluting cars into peace memorials and water-distillation plants when they were stuck inside their home for the last three months.

But when I go out to my yard, because that’s as far as I ever travel, I don’t see any cars at all as long as I don’t look up from the ground. Heck, I could probably take an entire troupe of circus clowns AND their families up Mt. Everest in a sticky-wheeled shopping cart powered by unicorn wishes and imagination.

The thing is, if we ALL had tiny, invisible, magical unicorn-powered cars, the world would be beautiful and peaceful, and I’d have a shot with Jennifer Connelly. Too bad AMERICANS all hate unicorn wishes.

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When my 1987 Chevy Van was about 20 years old, it needed a new muffler pipe of some kind (I forget which one, might have included the catalytic converter.) Dealer said Nope. Midas said “can’t really get the original parts any more, we can custom-build for $500”. Local muffler shop said “Ok, so you’ve gotten the FU price from them. We can weld something together for you for about $200”, and that worked out just fine. Was still working when the transmission died about 5 years later and I junked the car.

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The things I’m concerned about that I didn’t see in the unboxing video were

  • “How far is the range?” 10 miles will let me get to the grocery or downtown and back; 15 lets me get to the next town, 20 does a lot more
  • “How fast does it go?” 35mph/50kph lets me take the main non-freeway roads mostly safely. Less than that means I have to wind through neighborhoods and it’s basically a bike with a trailer and rain shield.
  • “Hills?” Fortunately, where I live is very flat; the biggest “hills” are overpasses over the freeway or main roads; most places I go around here, inability to cross those just means a different route with an extra stoplight, but it wouldn’t let me go to a lot of the nearby office buildings that I can reach with a bike.

My sister has a used Nissan Leaf (which cost about $3000 because the battery was toast; it has a range of about 10 miles.) Has all the power and speed she needs, and she can get to work and the grocery, but if she wants to go to the next big town (for Costco or whatever), she takes the gasoline car.

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That’s some crazy slippery-sloping you’ve got there. My point is that even Americans who are concerned about being green drive really, really big cars. Bcsizemo is right that some weight additions have come from additions to passenger safety. But the simple fact is that European cars tend to be lighter and have less powerful engines, and those folks get around fine, safely, and often at much higher speeds.

I’ve lived in upstate New York, and I saw Subaru wagons, Toyota trucks, and little Subaru Justys handle the snow as well or better than honking big browagons. In fact, compared to the 4WD trucks I’d driven, an early 90s Subaru GL was amazing in the snow.

Say all you like about unicorns and go ahead and create some straw man stuffed with old copies of the Utne Reader, but most people who drive cars that are far bigger than they need be. And very few people who own utility vehicles like trucks and SUVs actually need the things. Most Americans drive what they drive because they can, not because it’s what they actually need. (I’m not ruling out the impact of protectionist trade policies that prevent smaller vehicles from being sold here, or the fact that US automakers prefer to sell bigger, more luxurious vehicles because the margins are better on those.)

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When–as has long been the case in the U.S.–there are larger and heavier cars already on the road, smaller and lighter cars are less safe for the occupants of those smaller and lighter cars. When–as has long been the case in the U.S.–people are already driving fast, driving slowly increases the speed differences between vehicles on the same road, making accidents more likely and more injury-prone.

So sure: apart from the fact that I already resent any time I have to spend driving, it would be neat if we all drove smaller cars more slowly. Speaking as somebody who doesn’t own a car at all, and who as a result relies almost exclusively on walking and mass transit, I’d love it if I could, say, get through a crosswalk without the risk of being mown down by Karen Cul de Sac in a Ford Extradition. (Or an asshole on a bike who thinks traffic signals are for other people, but that’s a rant for a different day.)

But the impacts of traffic on the environment and on safety are problems with a lot of mutually reinforcing inputs, some of which are significantly different here than in Europe. Population is less dense here, especially in flyover country, so if your 1-liter Hyundai breaks down going over the Rockies in Colorado, you are potentially much farther from rescue than you are in the Alps. Much more of the country gets snow in the wintertime. Because less of the country is urbanized and even the parts that are often lack useful public transportation, people are more likely to need cars to do everyday tasks, increasing the number of cars on the road. This is only anecdote, but my experience with roads in the U.S. vs. roads elsewhere is that roads here are less likely to be well maintained. And again, we’re already dealing with lots of large cars on the road driving fast, which makes being the first mover in a small-cars-slow-down drive dangerous. So, in my view, saying “Even progressive Americans hate me because I alone speak the inconvenient truth about how they need less car” isn’t any more helpful than the “solutions” I proposed.

As a Corvair owner, I can assure you that it’s not Corvair-ish. It’s more like any Chevy truck built before 1960. Solid axles front and rear, king pins, differential. The Corvair has swinging half shafts in the rear.


From the “We actually drove it” video it says 40 kph, but the real speed is more like 30. Not good even for main streets in the city. His kid beat him up a medium sized hill on foot.

I think you are missing my point here. This imported cheap EV is really only going to be sought after by people who have an idea of what they are buying. From that stand point if it breaks and you don’t have a direct replacement part you are either out a few thousand or make something work (which it’s likely they would have the knowledge to achieve).

It’s my understanding that Tesla doesn’t like selling replacement parts, they want to do the work themselves. In an hour drive there are 3 Mazda and 3 Subaru dealerships from my house. They all sell parts or I can order simple stuff from the local Napa or mail order from Rock Auto, plus throw in a half dozen junk yards for used parts. If your power inverter fails on a Roadster is Tesla going to sell you a new one? If not you are stuck in a weird grey market of used parts scavenged from wreck Teslas. I’m not saying that’s exactly bad, but it’s not like there is NOS (new old stock) sitting on a shelf somewhere, that never existed. Assuming Tesla agrees to repair your Roadster then you still need to get it to them…

I find certain concepts about both of these cars very similar. Once the manufacture either disappears (import EV) or decides to stop supporting it (Tesla) then parts and repair are going to be difficult. I’d wager it’d be easier to repair the cheap EV than the Tesla.

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Tesla is very similar to John Deere and tech companies so you’re right that there really isn’t healthy repair ecosystem around it, obviously there’s a lot of blame to lay on Tesla but i’d also give some blame the US for its shitty consumer friendly protections on our right to repair. Even if i had the money i don’t think i would ever be interested in a Tesla.

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GM did something very similar with their EV-1 cars back in the 90’s. Once the leases were up on all of them, GM took all of them and destroyed them, on top of sitting on the designs for them.

While I’d like a Tesla, the aforementioned lack of space, added with the fact that I’d have to do some major work to the house’s electrical system to install a charger, and the cost make it a no-go for me.

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