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Chinese company to offer small electric trucks in US

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-02-23 00:33

A Chinese company believes that America’s infatuation with trucks will help it sell electric-powered pickups in the US that are about half the size of traditional gasoline-powered versions, for use in agricultural, industrial and maintenance settings.

Kaiyun Motors Co Ltd, a subsidiary of CSG Industrial Design Co Ltd, has the required approvals and hopes to sell as many as 10,000 of its Pickman electric trucks in the United States this year, company officials said.

The Pickman will retail for about $5,000 to $9,000 in the US, depending on the model, and will be subject to tariffs of about 25 percent, a company spokesman told China Daily.

With a top speed of 28 miles per hour, the capacity to carry 1,100 pounds of goods and a driving range of 75 miles per charge, the petite Pickman will be suitable for farm owners and employees moving loads of materials in factories, company founder Wang Chao told Bloomberg in January.

“2019 will be year one for Kaiyun as we take on overseas markets, including the US,” Wang said. As part of its expansion plans, the company is selecting a site for a South American factory, he added.

There is already an existing market for such vehicles, but many are powered by gasoline engines, noted Alexandre Marian, managing director in the automotive and industrial practice at AlixPartners LLP in San Francisco.

“For an (electric) vehicle to be successful, it needs to provide a value proposition that would offer customers an incentive to switch,” said Marian, who added that such incentives could include a lower cost of ownership and easier maintenance requirements.

“I think there are some good potential markets for this type of vehicle, such as agriculture, maintenance crews on campuses and various manufacturing facilities. Today many of these applications are served by small gasoline-engine vehicles, but if Kaiyun can demonstrate that its truck has the necessary durability, it’s relatively low cost, quiet operation and low operating cost could prove appealing,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst with Navigant Research in Detroit.

Abuelsamid said Kaiyun will have to demonstrate the reliability and durability that customers in this segment expect, as well as a strong support network.

“Customers already have viable choices from companies like Polaris that offer both gasoline and electric vehicles in a range of configurations. The Polaris GEM vehicles are considerably more expensive, but customers know they will get support from Polaris. Small Chinese companies with cheap vehicles have come and gone over the years, and it will be tough for Kaiyun to gain traction,” he added.

Pickup trucks, particularly the full-size versions, are very popular in the US market. But there are no electric-powered versions yet, although Tesla Inc and a startup called Rivian have plans to eventually make such vehicles.

“It may still be too early for electric pickups to hit at the heart of the volume commercial truck segment,” said Abuelsamid. “Some high-end premium customers will buy vehicles like the Rivian R1T and Tesla truck if it ever arrives, but until the classic work truck can approach the price of a gasoline equivalent and do it profitably, it will be a tough sell.”

“It would be a challenge and require a significant shift to get customers to switch to electric,” said Marian.

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