With some difficulty for Chinese automakers to comply with tougher U.S. air pollution rules, China's first major breakthroughs in the U.S. auto market are likely to be a new generation of small urban electric cars. One such new entry is the Clever Car, a tiny two passenger electric car that looks much like the German engined Smart car. Clever Car is also expected cost thousands less than even the cheapest model of the Smart, which starts out at $11,990, but tops out at nearly $17,000 for the top of the line model in the three model lineup. The small Chinese electric cars could possibly even be priced at less than $7,000 in some instances, making them competitive with used cars.
Oil prices are expected to stay low only as long as this deep worldwide recession lasts, as prices are currently suffering deflation. And with gas only around the $2 a gallon level right now, it only encourages more use of the larger gasoline powered cars. However once gas starts to creep back into the $3-4 a gallon area once again, then the small Chinese electric entries will begin to look far more attractive to buyers.
The small Chinese electrics may also attract a small niche of environmentalist buyers who believe these cars to be more green than even the preferred Toyota Prius models which are the current favorite vehicles of the environmentalists. In most real world driving circumstances, many Prius owners experience 45mpg fuel economy with these hybrid vehicles.
Toyota and other makers will soon introduce a new breed of extreme hybrids in the coming years, that are able to travel for the first 40 miles using purely electric power before the vehicle uses any gas. And these sort of vehicles will little doubt be bigger sellers than the small Chinese all electric entries which take 5 to 10 hours to recharge the batteries and the traveling range is often limited to only around 60 to 66 miles, although probably closer to 40 miles in many cases.
The new breed of Chinese automobiles also face the marketing problem of a lack of a real dealer or parts network as well compared to brands like Toyota which long ago established a powerful network of dealers nationwide as well as excellent service and parts distribution networks. The Chinese entries could leave buyers in some difficulty even acquiring brake pads or electrical controls for a while until a parts and service as well as dealership network builds. With few dealers for at least the time being, the Chinese entries will struggle in the American marketplace, however over time they could find their niche in the U.S. auto market as domestic brands such as Chrysler and GM both struggle to survive. And as the traditional brand loyalty to American-made automobiles suffers, buyers become more open to purchasing new Asian brands. And both Hyundai and Kia from South Korea proved that it is eventually possible to chip away their share of the U.S. market by improving quality, service and offering trust-building long vehicle warranties.
The electric automobiles do often have a real power advantage over many tiny gasoline engines in that these engines seem to have a lot of pickup for their size and easily able to carry two passengers with ease. There are also a few interesting lightweight Chinese automobile hybrids that are classified as motorcycles that only have three wheels in some cases. However, with four stroke rather than two stroke engines, due to tighter U.S. air pollution laws, these vehicles often only have top speeds that only top out at around 45mph.
Incredibly, there are even some 50cc and 150cc entries in this class as well. The 50cc engine is no bigger than a moped or smallest motor scooter engine, yet is able to propel these tiny Chinese automobile/motorcycle hybrids to city traffic speeds and offer excellent fuel economy due to the tiny engine displacement size. Some 50cc engines in mopeds are able to claim fuel mileage over 100mpg. I once owned a Chinese motor scooter with a 50cc four stroke engine that was able to get an awesome 94mpg once I converted it over to AMSOIL synthetic oil and removed the conventional petroleum oil which offered a lesser 83mpg fuel economy. And the top speed was probably about 40mph for this vehicle. However, I now own two motor scooters with two stroke engines that have higher top speeds, however the fuel economy is just 62mpg with one, and the other about 39mpg. Two stroke engines also remain controversial because while they put out far more power than four stroke engines of the same size, they both waste and consume much more fuel than four stroke engines, as well as burn oil to lubricate the engines, leading to far higher air pollution levels than the much cleaner burning four stroke engines. In fact, a 150cc two stroke motorcycle will emit far more air pollution per hour than a huge diesel burning city bus will. At some point in the future, air pollution regulators are likely to ban the sale of many two stroke engines.
Two stroke engines once found their way into automobiles built by Saab. Saab had some two cylinder two stroke automobiles during the 1950's, but over time increased these to three cylinders, and even had an experimental 6 cylinder engine that mounted two three cylinder two stroke engines together. Two stroke engines had some base of support among both automobile as well as motorcycle fans because these engine turn out more power. However, these engines always burn far less clean, and always emit far more noise. Some two stroke motorcycles sound much like a chainsaw, while others with tuned exhaust notes can be quite nice to listen to. Four stroke engines always have the advantage of less engine noise, lower pollution and higher mileage than two stroke engines, however they cannot match the power output of two stroke engines which are able to produce power on every engine cycle, unlike the four stroke engines which only produce power on every other intake, compression, power and exhaust cycle.
But electric cars always have the advantage of a great deal of power, although the recharging time takes away considerably from the freedom associated with automobiles. But the tiny size of the new Chinese electric cars and the ability to park them in tiny parking spots in crowded congested cities might just give them a market appeal with many younger environmentally conscious buyers. At some point Detroit must realize that China will become a major player in the U.S. auto market, only complicating their own market woes. And this new breed of Chinese electrics will be the first wave of a massive wave of Chinese automobiles expected to travel on American streets in the near future.
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