There's always been a market for cheap, cheap cars in the United States. Some people don't want to go in debt, some people only drive now and then, and some people just want to get the most for their dollar, but there's always been a market down at the bottom end of the price scale.
Of course, you can always spring for a beater car that's on its absolute last legs, but you don't have to do that. Today, if don't want to spend a lot, you go with the Changli. What's on the price tag? A whopping 930 dollars. Or — if you spring for the whole complement of batteries — 1,200 dollars.
Source | ChangLi | Alibaba
Buying A Changli
So how do you go about buying a Changli? You go straight to Alibaba.com and order one, just like if you were a pair of shoes or an Insta-Pot online. Now, to be fair, you're going to wait awhile for it to be shipped to you and chances are that by the time taxes, customs and other incidentals are paid for, it's likely to run 2,500-3,000 dollars.
Jason Torchinsky over at Jalopnik.com ordered one and produced a series of videos all about the Changli. It gets shipped to you in a crate, and (just like an Insta-Pot) you will need to remove a ton of packing material and do a little bit of the assembly work yourself. For instance, it'll come with bumpers that will need to be installed, a spare tire that needs to be put in its little cubby, a massive amount of protective plastic film that needs to be removed and a few other little details that are the end-user's responsibility.
The Alibaba website describes it as: "Application: Elderly Leisurely Commuting To Pick Up Children." They also classify it as a "four-wheel electric tricycle". That doesn't really tell you a lot, so what do you get when you get a Changli?
What To Expect
First off, the Changli has an all-electric drivetrain with a 1.1 horsepower motor. Yes, that decimal point is in the right place — it's not 11 horsepower, it's one and one-tenth. That's a bit more horsepower than the electric motor in a washing machine, so don't expect Tesla performance.
You can say that the Changli has a lot in common with a golf cart, and you wouldn't be wrong... except a four-seat Club Car will set you back $14,000. Even a cheaper golf cart will be in the 7,000-9,000 dollar range, and of course, the golf cart doesn't have a windshield or an enclosed body or:
- AM/FM radio with MP3 player
- Stamped-steel body with sliding windows
- Ventilation fan
- Backup camera
- LED projector headlights
- Chrome-plated bull bar-style bumpers
- Roof rack
- LED light bar
- Vacuum-plated chrome grille
- Digital dashboard
- Turn signals and taillights
- Room for two (front-and-back, with a three-seater option available for 300 dollars more)
Yes, that's right. These are all standard features on a 930- (or 1200-) dollar Changli car. But that's not it.
Source | ChangLi | Alibaba
Along with the surprising list of standard equipment, you can expect a way, way more sophisticated level of design and engineering than you would for a golf cart.
Up front, there's rack-and-pinion steering with an intermediate shaft and track bar. The axle is located fore-and-aft by radius arms that bolt to the frame; it's a simplified version of the kind of setup you'd find on some generations of Land Rovers or Toyota Land Cruisers. Compare that to a golf cart with a steering setup that's not much more sophisticated than what you'd find on a riding mower, with a dead axle and transverse leaf spring.
For a front suspension, the Changli is again almost like a real car, with coilover shocks, upper and lower control arms, steering knuckles with tie rods and a spindle. The front end also features greaseable kingpins (Model T-style). In back, you'll find a separate coil-spring-and-shock-absorber setup with stamped-steel radius arms bolted to the frame and a track bar from the frame to the top of the axle to limit lateral motion.
So you've got a semi-independent suspension up front, rack-and-pinion steering setup and a rear suspension that limits axle wrap without a leaf spring in sight. It's far from high-tech, but it's a lot more complex than what you'd find on a golf cart that costs several times as much.
When it comes to brakes, it's pretty basic. There are no front brakes at all, which isn't a big concern considering that the entire vehicle weighs well under 1000 pounds. What you get is a set of mechanically-actuated drum brakes (no master cylinder or wheel cylinders). The brake pedal, which sprouts almost vertically out of the floor, actuates a bell-crank-style linkage with rods, levers and springs that engage a splined rod that actually expands the brake shoes. It's pretty primitive and a bit like something from a John Deere riding mower, but it gets the job done.
Source | ChangLi | Alibaba
So what would you expect for a drivetrain with a 1.1 horsepower electric motor? Maybe a chain and sprocket setup driving one wheel, or even a belt? Nope. The Changli actually has a differential to prevent wheel hop when cornering. There is a chain inside a housing that connects the motor to the differential, rotating a sprocket that functions like a ring gear in an automotive differential.
There's an EV control box and a bus bar located on a shelf under the load floor (easily accessible) and a converter that reduces the motor's inputs down to 12 volts for the headlights, radio and other accessories. The batteries are accessible under the front seat: a bank of five conventional 12V batteries wired together for a total of 60V. The charger plug is located under a little door on the fender, not unlike a gas filler door.
Underneath, everything is spot-welded together with a diamond-plate steel floor pan and rectangular tubing in a space-frame design. And, surprisingly, everything is painted with no bare metal to be seen anywhere. The entire body is stamped steel, with no plastic bits (not even the fender flares), and the wheels are cast aluminum ten-inchers held on with four (not three) lug nuts.
Of course, it's not gonna get you anyplace very fast, it's got a 1.1 hp motor. You can get maybe 25 mph out of it on level ground, and a lot slower if you have to climb any kind of a hill. Still, according to Changli, it'll go 25 to 62 miles on a single charge.
The Jalopnik guys report a 28-mile range before the very last electron gets squeezed out of those batteries. That's pretty puny, but of course the first-generation Nissan Leaf only got about 70 miles out of a charge. Take it home, plug it in overnight and you'll be ready to go again.
So, what else can you get at that price point? Not much. In fact, you'd be lucky to get a used vehicle that runs. A brand-new Changli, however, will get you to the grocery store and back. And of course when you order it from the folks at Alibaba, just kick in a little more and get a pair of earbuds, some dog chew toys and maybe a string of Christmas lights!
Of course it's goofy and of course it's not going to be a viable transportation option for a lot of people. Still, it'll get you around town and back without burning any hydrocarbons at all, which makes more sense than jumping in a Chevy Yukon for a ten-block round trip to the store. And when you consider what you do actually get for 1,200 dollars, what do you suppose is possible at the 3,000-4,000 dollar price point?
Would you ever consider one of these cheap little cars? Let us know in the comments.