Technology

Meet the mini electric pick-up truck that won't break the bank

© Kaiyun Motors
Written by Jack Colman
We speak to Kaiyun Motors, the Chinese company ready to send their mini electric pick-up truck around the world.
As the road to an electric future unwinds, vehicle owners begin to glance uneasily towards their pockets. There’s plenty of excitement around emission-free cars, but the cost of EVs and their accompanying infrastructure is undeniable. However, maybe we need not worry, as a Chinese company has produced one of the world's cheapest vehicles, and it’s electric.
Five years ago, in China's Hebei province, Kaiyun Motors was born, with a goal of producing a cheap electric vehicle that could satisfy the needs of the everyday commuter. The company is a subsidiary of CSG Design, who produced the blueprint for the Chinese alternative to Rolls-Royce, Hong Qi, but their sights are set on creating a very different kind of vehicle.
With their CSG experience, the Kaiyun Motors team was able to formulate the design for their flagship vehicle within a mere four months, and, just like that, the Pickman was born. The mini-truck is exactly that, measuring 3.2m in length, 1.3m in width and 1.4m in height. If Shaquille O'Neal is reading, this one might not be for you.
It's not the nippiest car out there, maxing out at a slug-through-treacle speed of 45kph, but it's not the speed that will catch your eye. In China, you can pick up a Pickman for 16,800 yuan (€2,213), making it one of the world's cheapest vehicles. To find out how such a price is possible, we spoke to Kaiyun Motors spokesperson Alexander Drachev.
The Kaiyun Motors Pickmanmini electric pickup truck being charged by solar panels.
The Pickman can be charged with solar panels
"The first version of Pickman was more expansive but, after conducting the marketing field research, we learned that customers anticipated a price of under $3,000 [€2,648] for this type of vehicle," Drachev explains. "Learning from past experiences, we optimised the design and the manufacturing process to reduce overall costs, and meet the price goal."
The ultra low price is not the only factor attracting young people towards the Pickman, as, in China, it can be driven without a driver's licence. Before the parents out there start sweating, Kaiyun Motors tested the Pickman rigorously against computer simulation programmes to ensure its safety. The tiny 5.3bhp helps, too.
Following its success in China, Kaiyun Motors are now ready to send the Pickman global. The company is planning to sell 10,000 vehicles in Europe and the US by the end of 2019, but the road to international success isn't an easy one, especially for a mini electric truck.
"China has mild regulations for vehicles with a speed below 60kph, but various countries don't allow the car for road use. The registration process in the EU and the US, for example, is different from China," clarifies Drachev. "It takes time, but we've already started the process, and, to be honest, the overall feedback from abroad has been great. Lots of people have contacted us with interest in the Pickman."
So, if it can't yet feature on our roads, who's the driver of the Pickman in the western world?
"We believe that the Pickman has a strong market in the utility sector, where range and cargo capacity are often more important than speed," says Drachev. "Such uses include farms, factories and construction sites. In those cases, a larger, gas-powered [ie carbon-fuelled] pick-up truck probably isn't needed for shorter distance journeys. The cost of running fuel cars is rising and when people need to move some construction waste, they'd rather hop into a car with almost no maintenance fees."
A Kaiyun Motors Pickman electric pickup truck on a construction site.
The Pickman will be ideal for construction sites
In the US, the Pickman will be available at a slightly higher price of $8,950 (€7,899), which is still a bargain in our eyes. As an alternative to APVs, UPVs and even, in Drachev's eyes, golf buggies, the Pickman could be the perfect choice for those looking for a functional off-roader that's cheap to maintain, good for the environment and great to look at.
Any electric vehicle entering a new market will be inevitably compared to the big cheeses of the sector, notably Tesla and Ford. However, according to Drachev, Kaiyun Motors have a different role to play. "We're not competing with them. Our car is a working mule, Tesla's are luxury vehicles. The market is big, they have their own customer group and we have our own, but we believe we are united by a similar goal of satisfying customer needs."
The Kaiyun Motors journey is only just beginning, and the message from Drachev is clear and bold. "Our company's mission is to build the most affordable high-utility vehicle in the world. Like Henry Ford, we want to make a revolution. Otherwise, what's the point?," he says. "Our plan is to expand sales across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. There's a high demand in developing countries with low income, and we see the Pickman as a great solution for them."