America Is Missing Out on the Best Electric Cars

China has a wide variety of electric cars, while America's options are limited.


The Electric Car Market in China

To shop for an electric car right now is to encounter an embarrassment of riches. In the United States, almost every major automaker has its own EV model, if not several. You can get a Chevy Bolt or Nissan Leaf for less than $30,000, or a Porsche Taycan Turbo S for nearly $200,000. You can get an electric pickup truck from Ford, Tesla, or Rivian; a midsize five-seater from Hyundai or Kia or Volkswagen; or even something unusual like the new Cybertruck. There’s a lot, and it’s all pretty exciting.

But you know what EV you can’t easily buy in the U.S.? A Changli Freeman, which at $1,200 is one of the cheapest cars in the world. As a professional car reviewer, I couldn’t travel to test-drive interesting cars during the early pandemic, so I did the next best thing: went to the website Alibaba, and bought a Changli. After I paid $2,000 for shipping and customs, the car arrived at my doorstep months later in a massive cardboard box. It barely looks like a car, and barely is one: It has a top speed of about 25 miles per hour and battery range of about 27 miles, according to my own tests. But it’s not a toy: It has a roof rack, a radio that plays MP3s, and even a backup camera. I use it for far more of my basic transportation needs than you’d guess was possible.

The Variety of Electric Cars in China

The Changli is at the bottom of a deliriously varied electric-car market in China that should make Americans feel deeply jealous. That 50 kinds of fully electric cars are available in the U.S. may seem like a lot. Though in China, you can find some 235 filling virtually every possible niche for price, luxury, technology, utility, and so much more. 'Chinese consumers are the luckiest EV buyers in the world,' says Tycho de Feijter, an expert on the Chinese car market at the Clingendael Institute, a think tank in the Netherlands. But if you’re hoping that you might be able to buy these cars like you do so many other Chinese-made gadgets, keep dreaming. Without them, America’s sorely needed transition to cleaner cars may be slower than it otherwise would.

The Impact on America's Transition to Cleaner Cars

America's limited options and lack of access to the Chinese electric car market may hinder its transition to cleaner cars. While there are approximately 50 types of fully electric cars available in the U.S., China boasts a staggering 235 models that cater to every possible niche in terms of price, luxury, technology, and utility.

According to Tycho de Feijter, an expert on the Chinese car market, Chinese consumers are incredibly fortunate to have such a wide range of electric cars to choose from. However, for Americans, the dream of being able to easily purchase these cars remains elusive. This lack of access to the best electric cars from China could potentially slow down America's efforts to embrace cleaner transportation.

With a compelling range of options, China is leading the way in electric car innovation, while America may be missing out on the latest advancements. Without the opportunity to experience and purchase these cars, American consumers are limited in their choices and are therefore unable to fully participate in the transition to cleaner, more sustainable transportation.