China is the biggest market for electric cars in the world. It has the most domestic electric automakers. Three of their battery companies make approximately half of all the electric car batteries used on this planet. One of those three companies is BYD, which is also the biggest maker of electric and hybrid cars on the globe (yes, bigger than Tesla). They just debuted the BYD Seagull, an electric car that starts at $11,000, and I think it’s the first EV that’s both extremely cheap and something truly suitable for a global audience. That’s a big deal.
People Want Inexpensive Cars, Not Cheap Ones
The extremely cheap car has been a fantasy for roughy the last 125 years, with the Curved Dash Olds probably earning the title of the first truly “economy car” with a price tag of $650, or about $24,000 adjusted for inflation. While not cheap, another reasonable turn-of-the-century car would probably be a Packard that cost about four times as much. When the Ford Model T went into production it cost around $1,000 in 1908 money, though mass production allowed them to actually lower that price over time until the Model T dropped to less than $400, or about $10,000 in 2023 dollars.
Many other cars followed this same model, with varying degrees of success. In particular, the Volkswagen Beetle proved to be just enough car for just enough people for many decades (it was about $1,600 in 1968 or $14,000 today), which is how Volkswagen sold more than 23 million of them globally, making it the best selling car in history. It’s long been the assumption that a cheap car from somewhere else would come in and spread across the globe in the same way as the Beetle, but the reality is nothing has quite had the right blend of style, value, and fun.
I remember when the Tata Nano debuted in 2008. There were all these excited accounts of how this $2,500 Indian-built car would change the future of automotive. It would get 52 MPG! It would be cheap! It could fit a small family!
It failed. Badly. Why? This Autoweek article sums it up quite nicely: “The Tata Nano failed because nobody aspires to own a cheap car”
It couldn’t really compete with scooters and motorbikes when it came to extreme rupee-pinching, while a nicer used car with more features and a more premium badge on the front could be had for a similar outlay. And compared to slightly more expensive, yet still relatively affordable, competitors like the Datsun Go or Renault Kwid: The Nano comes off very much like it was built to a specific, and low, price point. The Go and the Kwid may not be paragons of luxury (or safety), but they do a little bit better job of dressing up their fundamental frugality.
It’s why Jason’s Changli, while being the cheapest electric car you can buy, is not something everyone would necessarily desire to own. Most people don’t want to have to use a chainsaw to fix their car.
China Already Has A Cheaper EV You Wouldn’t Buy
The best selling electric car in China is the approximately $5,000 Wuling Mini EV. It’s a cute, tiny car with about 27 horsepower and enough range to take you 75 miles. For a little more cash you can get a long range, high-speed version that’ll go a whopping 62 mph and can even stretch to 175 miles. For a city car that’s totally adequate.
As much as the curious autojournalist in me would love for these to be sold here, it’s unlikely most reasonable consumers in places like America or Germany would buy such a small car–it has a 76-inch wheelbase, which is a hair longer than a Smart ForTwo, but is as much as half a foot narrower than the Smart.
So, we can fantasize about a city full of Mini EVs in the same way we can desire Japanese kei cars. It’s a great fantasy. Because Wuling is partially owned by General Motors, if they wanted to bring it here, in theory, they could. That they won’t and have not tells you all you need to know.
The BYD Seagull Is Inexpensive But Not Cheap
We’ll continue to learn more about the BYD Seagull as they start going out to journalists, but reports from Shanghai’s auto show this week make it sound like it has the ideal balance of capability, performance, style, and thrift. I’ll start with performance and price, because those are fairly objective measures.
The Seagull, according to reports, comes in two variants. The base version costs 78,800 RMB (or $11,400) and comes with a 75 horsepower motor that can get the car up to 80 mph. More impressively, the vehicle can go up to 305 km on the Chinese range cycle, or 189 miles. That number could be lower if measured on the EPA scale, but it’s still impressive.
Arguably, the 95,800 RMB ($14,000) version is an even better value on paper. For just a few grand more there’s a 38 kWh lithium iron phosphate battery that gets 405 km of range, or about 250 miles. Both can use DC charging to charge up to 80% in a reported 30 minutes.
It’s not super small either, with a wheelbase of approximately 98.4 inches and a length of 148 inches. That wheelbase is approximately what you’d get in the last generation of five-door Ford Fiesta sold here, though it’s a few inches shorter. Again, we’re not talking about an SUV here, but it’s not impractically tiny. Think of it as a Fiat Panda, basically.
Those are the objective measures. Subjectively, I think the car looks like a totally fine car to own. It was styled by Wolfgang Egger, who you might know as the guy gorgeous Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. Egger also worked at Lamborghini and Audi and there’s definitely something Lambo-esque about the front headlights. Overall, the use of a blacked-out c/d-pillar, the darkly-colored five-spoke wheels, and the body sculpting give it an aesthetic that can work in any market.
While the Seagull’s interior isn’t extremely complex, it has all the features people expect out of a normal car, with seating for four or five individuals. The car offers a digital display above the attractive flat-bottomed steering wheel and a 12.8-inch infotainment system in the middle for the driver/passenger. There’s also a wireless charging pad for people who go in for that sort of thing. If there’s anything that might limit its popularity abroad it’s that it only has two cupholders.
The Seagull Already Looks Like A Hit
This was referenced in The Morning Dump today, but it’s worth highlighting this excellent and punny headline from Reuters: “Shanghai auto show crowds flock to BYD’s Seagull.” Get it? Super hoping this is a reference to English new wave band Flock of Seagulls. Here’s what they said:
At the Shanghai auto show this week, the largest crowds can be found around an unassuming, bright yellow hatchback parked at the booth of China’s largest electric carmaker BYD.
“It’s my kind of car, it’s suitable for driving to and from work, and you don’t need to manage anything, just use the battery … it’s also a relatively low cost product,” said Fan Yuhong, 28, a visitor to the fair who works in advertising and was among those at the booth.
Bill Russo, the Shanghai-based founder and CEO of strategic advisory firm Automobility, predicts the Seagull will become the best selling car in China within six months of its launch.
While it’s impossible to perfectly predict will or will not sell, I think Russo’s prediction sounds reasonable. BYD’s Song, available as a regular gas-powered car, hybrid or full EV, is already China’s best selling car, and the EV version of that costs around $28,000. This is less car, but it’s also more than half as much. Building something that’s more car than a Mini EV but cheaper than a Song seems like a no-brainer.
BYD has announced plans to expand its small footprint in Europe to sell across most major markets, focusing on slightly higher-end electric cars and crossovers with longer ranges than European and American companies at more affordable prices. Could something like the Seagull follow? Absolutely.
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There is no universe where I buy a Chinese car
I notice some news outlets are mistakenly claiming this will have Sodium ion batteries.
The company does make such batteries and they’re currently not far behind LFP in performance.
I’m interested how that turns out
Seems like a neat little car. But thanks for linking to the 8C Competizione; I think the hardtop version is the best looking car I’ve ever seen.
“Arguably, the 95,800 RMB ($14,000) version is an even better value on paper. For just a few grand more there’s a 38 kWh lithium iron phosphate battery that gets 405 km of range, or about 250 miles.”
While that sounds good on the surface, as you mentioned, that’s not EPA-rated range. I’m gonna guess under the EPA system, it will get under 200 miels of range. And 75hp and only a top speed of 80mph, this is more of a city car. I’m gonna also guess it has a 0-60 time well north of 10 seconds.
Of course if it’s used as a city car (and I’m not talking about spread-out cities like Atlanta. I’m thinking of cities like downtown Toronto, New York City, Paris, London, etc), the low power and slowness won’t be much of an issue.
But even factoring that in, if it comes to North America (and I doubt it will), it’s likely to be a flop.
Now having said that, I’m glad this exists. I think it will do well in places like India and China. India in particular needs a car like this as they have a huge pollution problem and the people there don’t have the money to buy Tesla-level BEVs.
Does it meet US Safety standards?
As is? Probably not. However, it will when it (or something similar) is sold here in the future.
I’m finding it hard to believe they can sell at that price.There’s got to be a compromise somewhere!
And i hope i’m 100% wrong
I’d still take a Maverick (if you can find one)- 21k ish hybrid 45mpg. 5 pass, CarPlay, enough of a truck bed and the blue oval behind it. I see them all over the place, around here as work trucks- utilities, pool guys, home inspectors. I have zero interest in the 30k v6 one, but man that hybrid hits every sweet spot out there. if you have 1 spot and need to fill pretty much every check box while living in the city. This is it- oh and no infrastructure issues. But who am I kidding, I owned a Volt……
There hasn’t been a $21K Maverick in a couple of years. The base Maverick now starts at $22,595 excluding destination, taxes, registration, etc… AND of course dealer mark-up above MSRP. So, the base truck w/just the destination charge is $24,190. Even if any were available, the odds of paying less than $30K for a base Maverick at this point seem slim, if not impossible.
I really wanted one myself… just that base XL “$21K” version in that Area 51 blue/grey, but I wasn’t lucky enough to get an order in early enough and find a dealer that would actually sell that first-year truck at MSRP.
As for the BYD Seagull… it’s interesting. Like a somewhat better-looking Chevy Bolt but at less than half the price. I am somewhat conflicted about having a Chinese-made car, as are many Americans I assume, but when BYD and other Chinese manufacturers start actually selling their cars over here (probably a few years away at least) I’m sure low prices and acceptable build quality will triumph over jingoistic resistance. Presumably, those Chinese cars will have to go through the exact same crash testing as any/all other cars sold here do, so crashworthyness will likely be a non-issue when the time comes as well.
And that is the issue- I went to 3 dealers here in TX and was literally laughed at one dealer for even wanting the base XL- why would you want that? Get the V6 its only 28k and has (nothing) “so much” more. I do know of a couple people in CA who got theirs for 22k on the XL trim (which if a dealer here is to be believed all the Hybrids went to CA and PNW). One 3d printed accessories- added cruise control from an escape and had themselves exactly what they wanted- and he loves that little thing. At 30k you’re solidly in mid size territory- or camry and most recently about 6k from a tesla 3.
Well SJ, I agree that as Telsa keeps dropping prices on the base Model 3, other new cars seem less sensible in comparison. Their semi-mythical “35K” Model 3 a few years ago tempted me, and I think the same car is down to $39,990 today, with the latest cuts.
Even at $35K though, I’d rather have something a bit smaller and cheaper: the future Model 2, or Model Y Mini, or whatever folks call their future, entry-level vehicle. I’m not sure I’d buy it since I find Elon so incredibly annoying… just like the CCP makes me a bit uneasy about buying a Chinese car.
I can probably manage to get over either set of misgivings, if the product is appealing enough of course. 😉
That base/hybrid first-year Maverick at $21K really was a fantastic deal for anyone who managed to buy one at that price. I’ve watched just about every Maverick video on Youtube (and read plenty of reviews, including Jason’s of course) and I could and would totally live with its finite shortcomings. I had the cash set aside to buy it, but as mentioned, couldn’t buy one anywhere near MSRP… it would have been my first new car, and my first Ford.
I’ll just have to keep driving my old Volvo SUV I guess. It cost me less than Ford charges for a cap for the Maverick’s bed. It only gets 16 MPG, and is a sleep-inducing shade of beige, but it’s paid for.
Our primary family car for almost fifteen years was a 2001 Toyota Echo. (It’s now our spare for when I don’t want to drive my El Camino in crappy weather.) The Echo was a $13k-ish car back then. Was it exciting, or super attractive? Certainly not. But other than the weak A/C compressor, it has never let us down in 360k miles. Don’t get me wrong – a fun, exciting, powerful car has its place. But sometimes a simple, inexpensive car that gets you where you need to go every time without a bunch of extra stuff you don’t really need is what is called for. Whether the Seagull could provide that level of affordable reliability is probably something those of us in the US will never know firsthand, because the market here demands crossover/SUV/compensation-mobiles and for the most part ignores cars that are just “good enough”.
Exactly. There’s no way anything with 75 perfectly adequate horsepower would sell here when the Fit and Echo are discontinued and even Civics and Corollas are increasingly supplanted by bigger worser cars.
New cars are so expensive, and things like housing cost so much more, that a new car is a luxury and nothing else. Nobody who isn’t fairly rich is buying new cars, and fairly rich people buying luxury products aren’t really interested in 75hp commuter cars.
75 electric Hp is a different game than 75hp ICE though. The almost always having peak HP and Torque available makes it much more livable.
I drove my 93-year-old neighbor’s Toyota Echo a fair bit, and I could not believe how decent a car it was for the price (probably worth only a grand before the pandemic, and maybe $2,500 after/today). Yes, it was small and not pleasant to look at, but it drove fine for a city car. Visibility was good, the motor was peppyish, it had a usable trunk, and taking her to doctor appointments in it was actually a bit fun when considering how little money it cost.
Yah, it wasn’t pretty, nor would it be great for long highway trips or in severe accidents, but everything’s a trade-off. As a cheap to own/run little car for around-town errands, it was superlative. I had a fantasy about buying it and replacing the back end with a boxy aluminum cargo container, but sadly, someone bought it out from under me.
I would never want it, but not for the reason you think. in Cities like Chicago, new York, even LA to a certain extent staying inside of a city area for your entire existence might be a thing, but the people these vehicles might appeal to generally don’t do cars at all. so city cars wit all the hoopla with parking and registering and what not makes little sense. in medium sized cities the reason why SUV’s and even pickup to an extent are used in such numbers is simply a quotient of price. and space I suppose. if you have just one space to park and you like to do both city and rural stuff, you kind of have to go SUV, or smallish 1/2 ton pickup to cover it all in one vehicle. suburb people need decent range as 30-40 minute commutes are pretty standard due to urban sprawl. and while sort of cheap due to communist wages, the chinese car at even 5K is still a pretty big pill to swallow if you have to have that second car for other things. ROI versus cost of electric or gas in just a single all purpose type vehicle is hard to work out usually.
Gotta respectfully disagree with your initial point… LA is huge, has minimal public transport, and it’s home to 10 million folks (more or less, in the county). Most folks own and drive cars since you have to if you want to get around: currently, there are 7.9 million vehicles registered here per the CA DMV. And as a former New Yorker myself, yes, I’ve got a few friends there that’ve never owned a car, but the majority of them DO. Even w/NYCs better public transport options, a lot of folks still need or want the freedom and flexibility that owning a car provides.
Which is not to say that I think the BYD Seagull at $14K would be a smash hit among Americans. As you rightly state, plenty of folks live outside of cities and require vehicles that can deal with interstate travel distances. And of course, we Americans aren’t particular fans of small cars or hatchbacks. Or the Chinese government atm. While I’d personally be delighted to own and daily something like the Seagull, I’m sure that I’m in a minority. Enlarge it by 50%, dress it up as a butch SUV, and increase the price by $15K and then it’ll sell in the states as a ‘value proposition.’
I want to see the crash test videos
I do too and likely for the same reasons.
Exactly my thoughts.
I’d also like to see a Munro tear-down analysis. Exactly how fast will it rust out and fall apart?
We already have an electric car that is bigger and better than this thing in most every way and, by the time this car (Seagull) got to the US, it would cost nearly as much. That car, of course, is the Chevy Bolt. For whatever reason, the Bolt gets no respect. (It looks like, if they can avoid further major issues, the sales are on the upswing,)
Bolt sales are indeed rising –
20,753 for 2020
24,827 for 2021
38,122 for 2022
and a whopping 19,700 so far for 1Q 2023 with 3 more quarters to go for an annual pace of around 78,000 units if they can keep it up. Still far behind the Model 3 at 139,782 in 2021 but significant nonetheless.
We have had a ’19 Bolt since jan 2019, and it’s been pretty great overall. It’s our daily driver and does all our trips less than 200 miles one way. For $28k we have enjoyed the heated seats, heated steering wheel, instant torque and one pedal driving in our nasty traffic, it’s cost us about $8 for a 240 mile charge, and required nearly zero maintenance in over 4 years – tire rotations and a cabin air filter I replaced myself for $12 and 5 minutes with no tools. At the next tire rotation I’ll clean and lube the caliper slide pins, just as a precaution. Since we have a gas car as a second car for road trips, the slow DC fast charge rate is nearly irrelevant, we have only needed to pay for commercial fast charging a handful of times over the last 4+ years.
And since we use the Bolt for our daily, we’ve only put 2,000 miles on the gas car over the last 12 months.
I am getting really strong Chevy Bolt vibes from this
“Think of it as a Fiat Panda, basically”
That really helps.
it helps most us not at all, those things don’t have enough sellable traits to make it to the US.
*grandiose not grandious
Ah, good catch. I tried to edit it after posting…sometimes the edit button shows up and sometimes it doesn’t…. not sure why.
Trully speaking, is hard to have a “global” car, specially an eletric one. I mean, the world is more than US, China and Europe. Even Europe has their own particularities and I would not think it as a single market.
While US and China are the biggest markets for sure, what about places that barely have eletricity, like Africa? What about the very dense areas where is impossible to install a charger in an old apartment building without rewiring the entire building? What about not so profitable markets, as some Latin America are?
The Seagul is overkill for me, a Wuling Mini EV is more than enough for me, since I don’t comute anymore due home-office. Damn, I really love the Citroën Ami, that would fit perfctly my needs to take one kid to school, get some groceries, and would be a perfect match to a gas burning weekend car.
But I live in Brazil. Eletric cars are still seen as luxury, so very feel viable options, plug-in hybrids the same. But even if I have cheap options, I can’t install a charger, because I live in an old apartment building that don’t allow that (consider that here each building has something like a HOA, with strict rules on what can be done). Even with some charging stations, none of them are really walking distance.
So, whatever if there is a global car that will fot China or USA or Europe needs. That still a long road ahead in terms of making something trully one size fits all.
This car really does nothing for me, personally. It’s the equivalent of a Mitsubishi Mirage; I’d rather buy a nicer, low mileage 3-4 year old used car than a brand new penalty box. Increasingly, most Americans feel the same way. Lest you believe it’s just the “big 2.5” automakers pushing CUVs on us, the major import brands who actively build and sell them in other markets are axing small econoboxes in the U.S. market (see: Honda Fit).
I also don’t believe it’d be $14K here. Once you make the appropriate modifications to certify the thing for U.S. safety standards and factor in transportation/tariffs/duties, I’d have to imagine that this thing would be at least $20K, which makes its value proposition even lower. That’s comparable to the entry point for economy cars crossovers made by mainstream U.S., Japanese and Korean automakers with dealer/service networks. For example, Chevy Trax/Trailblazer, Nissan Versa/Sentra/Kicks, Kia Rio/Forte/Soul, Hyundai Elantra/Venue, Toyota Corolla. Who’s clamoring to pay that for an unfamiliar Chinese brand without a physical presence here, especially considering most Americans’ sentiment towards China these days? I could be wrong, but I just don’t see it.
I mean it does nothing for me in the same way the Bolt (which looks similar) does nothing for me. But for non-car enthusiasts, I am sure both options look good. If you are just getting your first EV, this would be an inexpensive way into that market.
Actually, many Americans do want a low-cost new car because there are many advantages to owning a new car. A longer warrantee for one plus it’s just nice having something brand new. There’s a market for cheap cars, but it’s the manufacturers that don’t want to sell them because they’re less profitable.
BYD “..unfamiliar Chinese brand without a physical presence here…”? BYD has a US HQ in LA and a electric bus manufacturing plant in Lancaster. BYD electric bus fleets are operated by the City of LA, Santa Barbara, UC Irvine, and even school districts.
I should have clarified, I meant more so that they don’t have brand awareness among the average consumer or a physical network of sales/service centers for personal cars. What you stated is correct and I over-generalized.
So does a dealership full of these count as a Flock of Seagulls?
Run! Yes run! Not so far away to pick up the latest Seagull EV! We have a whole flock of them, this sale goes all night and day! You can’t get away!
I just hope they don’t steal my lunch like they do at the beach.
Let good old capitalism roar. Let someone get it U.S. certified and try selling it here! Kills me how everyone critiques it when we have neither seen the vehicle nor driven it. My family could have used this vehicle after my dad left us in the lurch and took our only car. Walking for groceries got really old after a while.
while I feel like this thing would be an absolute failure, I agree, BYD needs to jump through the regulation hoops and send some this way to see if they would sell. That would settle the speculation at least.
OK, so I may be weird, but the $5000+ Wuling Mini EV long range is more what I want- I can do all my in-town driving with something like that while my Outback sits in the garage, waiting for another cross country drive. If it had airbags it’s the kind of thing I’d look at buying and sharing with my teenage daughter- hard to get yourself in trouble with 62 mph.
Honestly, I’d love it if we imported cars like these specifically for kids under 20- this is what you get to drive as a beginning driver until you get past your serious stupids… kinda like motorcycles in europe.
Driving on the freeway at 62mph sounds like a good way to get in trouble. Speed differential is one of the most common causes of accidents.
they also do not note the ability to accelerate to the “62 MPH” speed. I believe it would be very aggravating and probably dangerous for really slow little cars like that to share the road with the already inattentive and irritated drivers on the roads these days.
For cars like this to be successful in the US, aren’t we going to have to create a new class of cars (city cars) which are restricted to low speed, lower safety standards? By the time you make this car meet US requirements, I doubt it will still be inexpensive, lightweight, or sufficient in range.
It has airbags and about as much HP as the car I drove in high school. With electric torque, it’ll perform much better. Anything else, safety wise, it’s missing is a few hardened supports and some basic off-the-shelf radar. The radar option on a US vehicle (before mandates) wasn’t crazy expensive, and the parts have only gotten cheaper since.
the Wuling does 0-60 in half a minute. I highly doubt the car you drove in high school was that terribly slow.
Mine was! Thanks, Ford.
if that’s the future, the future looks grim
I would buy one if they sold them here. So long as the crash testing proves they aren’t complete death traps. Plus, since it’s a seagull, i’ll have to get a vanity plate that says POOP ON U.