This week’s entry in the Awesomely Weird Alibaba Electric Vehicle of the Week series isn’t a minivan, it’s a mini-van. And amazingly, the company claims it can carry up to nine passengers – though you might need to start measuring each other if you plan to actually cram that many people into this little electric van.
You see, this definitely isn’t a full-size van, even though you might mistake it for a typical contractor van at a passing glance.
OK, a very passing glance.
From a distance, though, you might be fooled by the scale. With eight windows and either two or three doors depending on the model, the little electric mini-van looks nearly job-ready.
It’s even outfitted with the typical accoutrements you might expect, like mirrors, wiper (just the one), roll-up windows, backup camera, and a full light package.
But when you get closer, you realize just how small this thing really is.
It’s only 3.6 meters (11’9″) long, putting it about one salad plate shorter than a Mini Electric.
Inside you’ll find a pair of captain’s chairs up front and then two long benches in back, where the company claims you can fit another seven passengers SWAT-team style.
As you can see from the photos, the two benches aren’t exactly roomy church pews. I assume they expect you to load the back up with kids, or perhaps seven adults that are extremely comfortable with each other.
One cool feature is that the benches fold up against the sidewalls.
That means you can load the back up with cargo – or perhaps go for the record and stuff a baker’s dozen passengers back there.
I tried to pitch this van to my publisher as the perfect second car for parents in charge of the neighborhood carpool. He wasn’t buying it though, sarcastically retorting that it “looks like it has 5-star crash test rating written all over it.”
Fair enough, but maybe that just makes everyone a safer driver when they know the stakes are higher.
In terms of performance, you’ll find fairly typical Chinese mini-car figures. The factory can spec the vehicle with up to a 5,000W (6.7 horsepower) electric motor.
With that much power, putting the pedal to the plastic gets you a blistering top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). I’m still waiting for an answer from the factory regarding whether that top speed is measured with a single driver or with eight screaming passengers on board.
And I know what you’re probably thinking: “Six horsepower doesn’t sound like very much for a van – especially one designed to carry around half a kindergarten class. This thing probably couldn’t even climb a steep, rusty ramp obstacle that looks like it was stolen from a shady bicycle park.”
That’s exactly what I was thinking too! At least until I saw the demonstration video below provided by the factory.
How far can this electric van travel on a charge?
What good is a high-capacity electric mini-van if it doesn’t have decent range?
Our little van here is powered by a 60V and 120Ah bank of 12V lead acid batteries, adding up to 7.2 kWh of capacity. That’s actually pretty decent, and it’s the same amount of battery capacity you’ll find crammed into many of Zero’s electric motorcycles here in the US.
The factory claims that’s enough battery for 120 km (75 miles) of range.
Those lead acid batteries are old tech, though, so a new lithium battery upgrade would be a big win. You could toss in a half dozen 60V 20Ah lithium-ion batteries to save a ton of weight and improve your battery pack’s range and lifespan. Each brick seems to cost around $180 these days from the usual budget sources – not too shabby.
To really increase your range, though, you’ll want to check out their solar panel option. The factory claims that the giant panel can add 40 km (25 mi) of range per day with decent sun. That’s almost as much solar charger per day as Aptera’s crazy three-wheeled solar-powered vehicle.
As much as I love this funny little electric mini-van, I’m not sure what I’d do with it.
I only have five nieces and nephews – definitely not enough to test the full nine-passenger capacity of the van.
The only other use I can think of for me is that it would actually be great for utility jobs. Like for example, last year I bought a ton of candy for halloween but we didn’t get many trick-or-treaters due to COVID. I’ve been looking for a way to distribute it to the neighborhood kids, and a slow-moving cargo van like this would be perfect. I just need to think of some type of sign to put on it so everyone knows I’m giving out treats.
Can you really buy stuff like this on Alibaba?
My regular readers know that this column is lighthearted and not meant to convince anyone to actually buy these things. I’m not saying anyone should pull out their credit card and start googling sea freight prices.
But if anyone actually does want to go down that path, know that the advertised prices on Alibaba are just the beginning. You’ll usually get nickeled-and-dimed along the way, then there will be exorbitant shipping charges, and lastly you’ll still need to fork over for a customs broker and final delivery from your closest port to your home.
If you’re prepared for that, my best advice is to communicate slowly and carefully with the vendor to ensure you’re both on the same page. Then prepare for a long wait and a rollercoaster ride until your fancy new electric mini-van finally shows up.
While you wait, why don’t you check out some of my other fun Awesomely Weird EVs below. And if you should discover any of your own that you think I should check out, shoot me a message! You can find my contact info in my author bio below.
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