Everything that sucks about this car also makes it great
Americans are so used to cruising around in giant fuck-you palaces that a sane car looks insane. The Hong Guang Mini EV is a sane car. It’s tiny, costs less than $5,000, and is slow as shit. In short, by all the standards Americans use to judge a personal vehicle, it sucks. That’s what makes it great for society.
Small Is Good (For Everyone)
Americans are used to thinking small cars are lame and dangerous, and they are, within the Mad Max landscape they call a society. Americans actually do not understand how far their vehicles have bifurcated from human reality.
What Americans call ‘good’ in a car is actually dumping huge negatives onto everyone else. A ‘good’ car requires huge public roads, parking, and death to the public should they get in your way. Not to mention the pollution and climate change. The answer to this problem has been making them electric, but you still have the underlying selfishness of driving two tons of death metal around. Tesla’s new Cybertruck looks even more dangerous than other trucks, and your organs are not protected by its electricity.
The simple fact is that your cars don’t need to be so fucking big and if you really need such a thing on a farm, you shouldn’t be able to drive it into a city. It’s also a fact that your need to full recline and store your supersized soda doesn’t trump other people’s right to have a livable city and vital organs. America’s transport dystopia is one big tragedy of the commons, where the needs of private vehicle owners have literally overridden all public decency and common sense. The idea that simply electrifying this shitshow will solve all these problems is just false. The problem isn’t the engines. It’s the cars.
For an example of sanity you can look almost anywhere else. No one else drives these sociopath cars. Here I’ll talk about the Hong Guang, in China.
This car is tiny. To move 60kg of human it only uses 665kg of machine (1 to 10). Compare this to an F-150 which weights easily 2,000 kg (1 to 33). The Hong Guang also seems basic and uncomfortable AF inside. It has barely any safety features and is basically terrible for the car owner. But you have to understand, life on the road is a zero-sum game. Everything that’s bad about being inside this car is great for everyone outside.
Getting hit by 665kg in the legs is very different from getting hit by two tons in the chest. The road and parking space required for something 3m long is very different from something 6m long and 3.5m wide. A car like the Hong Guang means livable streets for everyone, at the cost of minor inconvenience to the driver. Which is how it should be.
Small is also good for most owners. You pay less, whatever your energy source is, and you’re not paying to move a literal shit-ton of metal. You’re not struggling to find parking spaces to fit your massive ego into. More to the point, you’re not paying to be a noxious asshole. The Hong Guang costs $4,500, and is worth much more, for reasons I’ll get into.
Cheap Is Good (For Everyone)
This car is literally cheap. The foam seats, the plastic, everything is cheap. But you really have to reorient your thinking. This category of vehicle is actually great… for a scooter.
In China, India, and South Asia at large there is an entire category of vehicles between motorbikes and cars. Three-wheelers, scooters, these lightly armored vehicles are basically motorbike engines with some scaffolding. They’re not very fast or fancy, but they’re great for zipping human beings around the city and are incredibly hardy even in rural areas. Americans are unfamiliar with this entire category of transportation, but if you understand it then something like the Hong Guang makes sense. I personally spend nearly as much time in a three-wheeler as a car:
In this context, the Hong Guang is not a terribly shit car. It’s a good three-wheeler. A vehicle like this is really for someone who wants to move their family or business vehicle up from a scooter, but who can’t afford a car. This thing is obviously more shit than a 1.5 ton sedan, but it’s much better than a motorbike. That’s the niche that a vehicle like this fills, and a big reason it sells so well.
In India companies like Tata have tried this with the Nano and Bajaj with the Qute (and largely failed) but the Hong Guang seems to have succeeded, in large part because it’s electric, and because of how that fits into their sane regulations. Hong Guuang sold 20,000 units last month (February, 2021), much more than the 13,700 Model 3’s sold by Tesla. Yes, it costs 8X less, but as mentioned that’s a good thing. It’s cheap and heaps positive benefits on other people. This thing is both accessible and not a huge tax on society.
Speaking of taxes…
Taxes and cities
A big reason that the Hong Guang is successful is because it’s actually worth in $15,000. In urban China you may have to pay $10,000 for a license, plate, and you’d have to wait. The Chinese government offers free (and guaranteed) plates for EVs. Hence the value of the thing is actually nearly $15,000, and you only pay one-third of that.
This is actually a rational allocation of value. For an America car you’ll spend $75,000 making it a deluxe murder palace, but none of that money goes towards society. It’s just more indulgence for already indulged people. With the Hong Guang the tax structure leads to sane vehicle use within their cities.
This is important to understand. Simply electrifying a bad transport system just gives you a bad system, electrified. Electric cars are not some messianic invention that’s going to save transport. They’re just part of the puzzle, and a relatively small one. Cars should never be the center of a transport system, you should always be focused on moving people. Something like the Hong Guang looks crazy if you think of it how Americans use transport, but that’s not how Chinese people use transport.
You’d never take this on a road trip from Beijing to Shanghai, you’d take high-speed rail. You might not even take it to town that often, maybe you’d just ride to the metro station, or when you needed to carry a lot of groceries. None of this makes sense to Americans — who don’t have high speed rail or good public transport — but it makes sense. Americans buy cars which have to work for every possible use case, because their public services are so useless. Other people don’t live like this. And no one should.
Slow Is Good (For Everyone)
Finally this machine is slow as shit. It’s maximum speed is 100 KPH (about 60 MPH). You can’t really take this thing on the highway. It has a one speed transmission and would not sound good. That’s fine because this is one part of a transport system. Maybe you just shouldn’t use a car for that purpose.
Most of the time your car is going less than 50 KPH, or less. Acceleration is just showing off. It imposes danger on everyone else, for the enjoyment of one person in the car. Yes, you could use it for highway driving, but why have you built your cities around highways? Instead of adding lane after lane of dead asphalt that just creates more traffic, why don’t you have trains and metros like civilized places?
The fact is that slower cars serve the basic need of the person inside to get around, without imposing death and mayhem on everyone else. And where these cars become impossible (like highways), the answer is to get out of the car. This is the sign of a mature transport system. Everything isn’t built around the car. The system is optimized for human beings.
The Parity Of The Commons
As you may have noticed, I haven’t talked about the electrification part much. It’s important, but not nearly as important as the big transport picture, which is much more than one car. A healthy transport system actually has basic cars and cities that are palaces for the people. A country with palatial cars and unwalkable roads is a civilization that’s completely broken down.
Everything that makes a car like this shitty and unappealing, is what makes a society good. Small cars are a minor inconvenience for the driver, but a great relief to pedestrians. Cheap cars are a bit unsexy for the driver, but great for people who’ve already had sex and need a bit more protection for their babies. Slow cars are not as fun, but they are functional, and enable you to get stuff done without hot-dogging everybody else.
Is it good that this car is electric? Yeah, it’s great. But it’s even better that this car is shit. It makes for a less tragic commons for everyone else. Tesla is simply not going to save the world. Tesla is just electrified selfishness. Little EVs like this Hong Guang are already outselling Tesla, and they’re much better for the world.
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