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This electric car is under $5,000 — and it's outselling Tesla two to one

The Hong Guang Mini EV
(Image credit: SAIC-GM-Wuling)

It may look a little on the boxy side, but the Hong Guang Mini EV, a joint venture between General Motors and China’s state-owned SAIC Motor, is selling incredibly well. In fact, SAIC-GM-Wuling’s offering is currently beating the world’s best selling electric vehicle – the Tesla Model 3 – by nearly two to one in China.

There are a few reasons for its huge popularity, but price is almost certainly the main one. While a Tesla Model 3 will set you back 249,900 yuan (~$36,800) over there thanks to October’s 8% price cut, you could still get eight 28,880 yuan (~$4,500) Hong Guang Mini EVs for that price. Or seven if you push the boat out and opt for the $5,000 version that comes with air conditioning. 

Unsurprisingly for that price, you have to make a few compromises, chief amongst them being legroom. While the manufacturers claim it can fit four people, you can’t imagine they’d fit comfortably. 

Specs wise, the Hong Guang Mini EV is way adrift of more expensive electric vehicles too. The 9.2kWh battery gives a range of 75 miles before needing recharging, and the 17.4 horsepower motor means the top speed maxes out at 62mph. For reference, the Model 3 has a range of 263 miles and can hit top speeds of 130mph.

But clearly not everybody needs that, especially if buyers are simply looking for a cheap way of getting from A to B in an urban environment where charging points are plentiful. SAIC-GM-Wuling markets the car as “the people’s commuting tool," so it’s hardly being sold as a product for long cross-country roadtrips.

While the Hong Guang Mini EV is a China-only electric car at the moment, that will change soon, as Wuling has already stated it plans to export the Hong Guang Mini EV to other markets. But there are a couple of reasons why it may not prove such a hit outside of the country.

Firstly, as the BBC notes, one of the reasons why it's sold so well could be little to do with the car itself, and more to do with bureaucracy. In order to promote the uptake of electric vehicles, the Chinese government offers guaranteed license plates for free with every EV sold. That may not sound like a big deal, but getting licence plates for regular cars in big cities can take months or years, so a budget EV is quite an appealing shortcut.

Obviously. this incentive would hold little sway outside of China, but there’s another reason why it may not seem so appealing. A Latvian company is selling a car based on the design called the Dartz FreZe Nikrob in Europe, but due to stricter environmental requirements it’ll reportedly sell for around $12,000. That’s still competitive compared to the price of a Tesla, but it’s not quite the impulse purchase price it goes for in China. 

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.