Home / Car News / There’s A New Chinese Electric City Car Named ‘Corn’ And It’s So Damn Cute I Want To Spit

There’s A New Chinese Electric City Car Named ‘Corn’ And It’s So Damn Cute I Want To Spit

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Corn. They named it after corn. Because, I don’t know, some high-powered naming consultant under retainer to the Changan Auto corporation shrewdly assessed that naming a car for the world’s number-one cob-based yellow en-kernel’d vegetable snack was exactly what the electric-car-buying public was demanding, and so we now have the Changan Lumin Corn. Or, perhaps Changan’s naming consultant wasn’t really telling the truth about “knowing English.” Really, it doesn’t matter, because this little city EV is so freaking practical and charming that the company could have named it after a parsnip and I’d be interested. Because it’s exactly the sort of car that my time in the Changli has made me realize we need.

I was alerted to the existence of the Lumin Corn by my old pal and fellow autojourno Máté:

Máté’s got my number, no question. If he was making a Torch-trap so he could capture me and enjoy the forbidden savor of torchmeat, he couldn’t have baited that trap any better. The over-the-top, unashamed, unapologetic cartoonishness of the damn thing is exactly what I love.

But, perhaps more importantly — fun/ridiculous look aside — I genuinely think this sort of vehicle makes a hell of a lot of sense. And I say this from actual, lived experience. Let me explain.

As I wrote about yesterday, I’ve been using my cheapest-car-in-the-world, the little $1,200 electric Changli, a hell of a lot. And not just in an ironic, just-for-laughs kind of bullshit way; I use that little 1.1 horsepower “happy grandpa” car for real — everyday errands, grocery runs, taking my kid to his buddy’s house, picking up take-out, going to the auto parts store, meeting friends in town, you name it. Real car shit.

For in-town use, on roads with 35 mph speeds or less, I get transported to and from where I need to go with about the same general speed and comfort in that 880-pound thing as do my neighbors in their 4,000-pound cars. Sure, I can’t take it on a highway, or a really long distance. or carry a more than, say, three people in it, but even as marginal as the Changli is, it serves at least 65 to 75% of my normal driving needs.

The remarkable ability of such a minimal vehicle made me realize that if you were to increase the basic traits of the Changli– power, size, speed, safety, and range– by just a bit, you’d have something that could handle 85 to 90% of most people’s everyday car needs, and a car like this little Lumin Corn seems to be exactly that.

Let’s look at the specs, via Car News China: It’s built on Changan’s EPA0 small city-car platform, which is a front-motor, FWD setup with seating for four. And, as developed into the Lumin Corn, it has dimensions that are almost the exact same as a classic BMC Mini: about 10 feet long, 5’7″ tall (that’s actually a good bit taller than an old Mini), and about five feet wide.

The car has two motor options, one making about 41 hp and one making about 48 hp – again, numbers that are very much on par with an original Mini, and as someone who regularly drives a 52 hp car, I can say adequate for most normal driving needs.

There are two battery options for the Lumin Corn, a 12.92 kWh or a 17.65 kWh pack, which give the car driving ranges between 96 and 130 miles. That is legitimately useful, especially when you consider that a Tesla Model 3 with a 75 kWh battery pack, which is about quadruple the size of the bigger Lumin Corn battery pack, only delivers less than twice the range.

I mean, sure, it’s a hell of a lot bigger and faster, of course, but how much of that size and power are you really using as you drive to meet your squeeze for dinner or pick up a bottle of starter fluid from the auto parts store?

The truth is, you really don’t need to shove around 4,000 pounds of anything to get your basic transportation needs met. I mean, if you want to, sure, you do you, but if I could have my fleet of weird, ungainly, gas-burning shitboxes for my fun driving and something like this to handle all the mundane boring life stuff, that’d suit me just fine.

Even better, this little EV doesn’t feel mundane. It doesn’t seem like owning one would be a punishement. It seems like it would be fun! I mean, look at it:

I love how hard the designers leaned into the anthropomprphization, with those headlights that have suggestions of eyelids, giving the thing a sort of friendly but ever-so-slightly sassy/sarcastic look about it. Just the kind of pal you’d want with you to make a boring grocery run more fun.

It looks kind! Not every car needs to look like a murder-monster that just found out you boned its mom. It’s okay to have a cute, friendly car! Cars like this broadcast a certain amount of general upbeat goodwill to all who see them – I’ve seen it happen with my Changli as I drive around town – and if you’re a five-and-a-half-foot-tall lump of goddamn iron like I am, you don’t need to try to intimidate everyone with the way your car looks.

It’s not overdone, the body lines are clean and modern, and the interior seems well-designed, and not skimping on any modern electronics or whatever. You want screens? Okay, here you go:

There appears to be some nice leatheresque material on that dash there, in contrasting colors. And the seating looks, well, fine!

The door cards look like they’re plastic, which is fine by me, because what am I, a sultan? Plastic works, and looks tough.

Cargo room with the seats up is, predictably, minimal, but if you need to haul some stuff, drop those split seats down and I bet you can cram more in this little box than you’d expect.

Sure, I can’t speak to the safety of this, and I suspect it’s not great compared to other large modern cars, but I also think that for the likely use conditions of this vehicle, you’ll be fine. It’s not a highway cruiser, it’s for getting around your city or town, so just try not to drive it into any walls or SUVs at 60 mph.

I’m telling you, I’ve been living the ultra-minimal car life, and I’ve learned things. I’ve learned what works. I’ve learned that while ultra-minimal may be a bit too much for most people, pretty minimal isn’t, and pretty minimal cars can fill a sweet spot in transportation that currently in America has almost no viable contenders.

A car like the Lumin Corn could do this job very, very well. Even with the absurd name. In fact, maybe it’ll help.

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56 Responses

  1. I love these articles from. Torch but sometimes even he doesn’t get it. I don’t want a carnival ride car that will explode apart if I fart. I don’t want a car that looks and is built like one of my 2 years old kids cars. These things will collapse fall apart and need replacing if you happen to run into a falling maple leaf in fall. I’d rather my obit not say he died because his plastic kiddie Kar hit a discarded piece of hubba bubba.

  2. Ok, so I just got done losing my crap over the base price of the 2023 manual Integra ($37 Thousand Dollars… What the CRAP – ok, calm, calm…) and then read this piece, and they both kind of dovetail into something I’ve been thinking about a while now – automakers have abandoned the low-priced car en-masse, and while that was certainly accelerated by the chip shortage, it was already underway. Not enough profit in those base models, dont’cha know.
    I can’t help but draw parallels with the early days of the car industry, and the way Henry Ford totally flipped the business model by making quality, practical vehicles at a price his factory workers could afford, rather than build a handful more luxury cars for the ultra-rich, chasing those sweet sweet profit margins. (I strongly encourage anyone interested to read the book ‘Car Crazy’ by G. Wayne Miller that does a fantastic job documenting that period).
    I wonder if someone couldn’t pull off the same trick again by building cars in the $10-20K price range that the other automakers have abandoned? Curb weights in the 2000 – 3000 lb range, engines around 100 – 150 horsepower, max… Cars in the mold of the Mitsubishi Mirage, but, y’know, not doofy looking. Bring back legit 4 cylinder mini trucks a-la the 80’s-90’s Nissan hardbody or S-10. Design them from the jump to be fully ‘right to repair’ – maybe join Tesla and ditch the dealership model. Don’t hide the cheap, lean into it! Build them as simple as a hammer and about as reliable. Surely enough of us have grown out of the ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ mindset that such a car would sell?
    Maybe if I don’t open my eyes the dream will stick around for a little longer…

    1. Bubba. You write alot without reading much. Read a little about business or take a bit of time to think about what you would do. There aren’t enough computer chips, much of the raw materials needed to make cars can’t get delivered and you think the auto manufacturer should take the few computer chips they can get and the limited raw materials they can get and make a low cost undesirable vehicle and sell it for a loss instead of making a vehicle they can make a profit on.
      Okay once they go out of business what does everyone do?

    2. I bought a base model Maverick XL for like $23k out the door in January, and I’m now sort of obsessed with finding great super cheap cars (wonder why I love this site haha).

      A simple EV like this as a 2nd, around town car would be so great!

        1. I’m 6’3” and fit fine. Rear seats are decent/solid in terms of space.

          Mileage is interesting – I haven’t been tracking on my own & just utilizing onboard, but over 2000 miles I’m at 39.5mpg. Mostly around town driving, maybe 20% highway. As weather has warmed up a bit, the on board computer shows me getting 50-60mpg on pretty much every trip (sometimes it’s legit like 80+ which makes me laugh, I feel like it’s not accurate but who knows). Not exactly sure how it pulls it off, but it loves going into “electric” mode.

    3. I agree with what you are saying but if there was a huge market and money to be made wouldn’t someone be doing it? I just think people have gone SUV/truck crazy and they wouldn’t want it. I could be way off, but I just don’t see those things selling well because ‘Murica.

      1. I think a lot of it is to do with low price cars carrying a low profit margin, and all established automakers have basically zero incentive/zero interest to offer a low price product that would only pull customers away from their existing high margin models (or, even steer customers from used cars, which carry healthy margins for dealerships, and automakers usually do want to keep their dealers happy also).

        If anyone is going to offer a truly low priced car, it would almost certainly have to be a new entrant with no existing business to canibalize, like what Yugo and Hyundai did in the ’80s. Is there a large segment of the population who would go for a ca. $10,000 new car with a new car warranty? Yeah, there probably is. Not large enough for a big, established automaker to bother with, but maybe large enough for some Chinese company to get their toe in the door if anyone wanted to take a crack at it.

    1. Yeah. Definitely a kernel of truth there. Which shucks. Unless a town has a rule about vehicles driven there, this thing is going to be roasted.

      Joking aside, I wish some of the towns had rules on vehicles driven within. I know some are banning cars to make them walkable, but if they limited cars to these, it would feel more like some of the towns in Italy with narrow streets that you just can’t get a truck/SUV into.

      1. but if a town only had small corns rolling around in what seemed like a maize of city streets, would it seem like they were all stalking you? At least if they were all EVs it would be pleasant on the ears. Anyways, would love to stay and chat but I have to starch my grandpa’s jeans.

  3. I already have four adult-size cars in the driveway, suitable for the faster and longer-range purposes, but this one would fit on my porch, and I could use it every day. Wonder what it’d cost to ship one here and get it licensed.

  4. It would be fun if Autopian did a series on designing a version of that 85% car that could be reasonably (and legally) built and sold in America. (I assume that this would not meet any number of regulations?)

    It’d be perfect for me: I live in and commute through suburbia and our housing development is a real maize.

  5. Well, it’s attractive, but my sales territory covers 4 states and I like to drive about 8 hours from home to get away on most weekends, so something like this isn’t in the cards for me. Oh, and my company won’t pay mileage reimbursement on anything with less than 4 doors or an MSRP less than $26,000, so I think that would rule it out for me, if nothing else would

        1. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m not sure that having that restriction is even legal. Anyway, if you drive for work, they either reimburse you or you can claim that mileage on your tax return at the same amount they would have reimbursed.
          Here is a short list of cars that meets their criteria. Surely one of them could fall into the “I want” category?
          Honda Civic Type R
          Subaru WRX STi
          BMW M3
          Hyundai Elantra N
          Toyota GR Corolla
          Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrofoglio
          Cadillac CT5-V
          Porsche Taycan
          Dodge Charger Hellcat

          1. There’s also the whole thing of me needing to pay the down payment and also not wanting to over leverage my personal balance sheet with excessive debt. Sticking within the price range of what I would buy on my own assuming no allowance program, no, there is nothing compelling. My shopping list was Challenger (top preference, had one before, loved it), Camaro (just gave one up to get in compliance with the work rule, was OK with another), Mustang, Toyobaru, or maybe, maybe a MINI Hardtop. None complied, so at this point, it’s just whatever, I don’t care.

      1. Totally guessing here but it could be that they don’t want to have the people representing the company driving around in what they would consider a low end cheap car, or one that is not “mature” like a 2 door sports car. They are trying to encourage a more prestigious look without actually compensating their employees by providing a company car.

  6. As long as those seats have some modicum of lumbar support I’d absolutely love one!

    One day a friend asked my why I usually choose to drive a Golf Sportwagen over an RS6. Jason gets it.

  7. There was a Canadian company (Feel Good Cars, later ZENN) that started out selling refurbished Henney Kilowatts (EV Renault Dauphines) that later transitioned to selling an electric-converted French microcar (ironically, even though they were based in Toronto, it wasn’t legal here). That car felt a bit like it could have evolved into the Corn.

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/bf/NEV-BlueZENN-RSFQ0244.JPG/800px-NEV-BlueZENN-RSFQ0244.JPG

  8. I really like this car. Generally, I am not a fan of Chinese cars because they are almost always ripoffs of western cars. It is nice to see them do something cool on their own. I wouldn’t want to be in a crash in this, but then I wouldn’t want to be in a crash in my Miata either, or in any car for that matter.

  9. It’s adorable, yes, but it alsoo looks mildly put out about having to explain for the umpteenth time that “Yes, may parents really did name me corn.” A bit like my daughter having to explain her full name.

  10. This is a perfect car for my very small market, Catalina Island. You have to wait 20+ years for a permit on a full size car, so I can bring over on a barge anything under 120″. Golf carts can’t go into the interior because interior permitted vehicles have to be “fully enclosed.” So that leaves JDM micro cars, Smart cars, or modified Samurais. I would love one of these corn nuggets and figure out a mild lift (maybe just bigger tires?) because most of the interior roads are dirt and/or rough. Call it popcorn?

    1. If you’re up for importing like Torch did with the Changli there’s actually quite a lot of variety in that segment of the Chinese EV market, including little pickup truck type things and the like.

    1. If I could get away with that where I am right now I would, best I could do was get an r53 MINI as a daily and a truck so old that the cassette deck was the premium option. Sometimes moving out to the middle of nowhere has it’s drawbacks.

  11. I really hope we get some city cars like this one day soon. I have zero desire to pay $50k for a CUV with 400 miles range when I have a commute under 10 miles on surface roads. As someone who had driven a 12 hp ’50s car in a big city for serveral years, my definition of something that is properly useable in the city is that it can hit 50 mph, even if it’s at a relaxed pace. Most of the time you’re under 40 mph, but 50 or 55 allows for brief trips through higher speed pinch points like bridges. As for safety, any 4-wheeled vehicle with doors is safer than a bicycle or motorcycle, even the Changli. Bonus points if these things could be had here for under $15k new.

      1. At only $1500 less than a base hybrid Ford Maverick and over $3100 more than a base Nissan Versa, the ElectraMeccanica is not well priced, is it? I’d expect to pay no more than $12,000, maybe $13,000 for something that limited.

        That’s the rub with all the minicars available so far. They’re just too close in price to something efficient enough, but hundreds of times more useful.

        It just kills me that Ford didn’t make the Maverick a plug-in. Even with as little as 25 miles of range, the appeal would be practically off the chart for me.

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