Chinese automaker Kandi is entering the US market with two small electric cars, one of which – the K27 – it plans to sell for just $10,000 after federal tax incentives.
But you will have to act fast to get that ultra-low price.
For the first 1,000 buyers the initial purchase price of the little car is expected to be $17,500, which qualifies most people for a $7,500 tax credit. The price for those who buy later will be $19,800, or $12,400 after the tax credit. Many states also offer additional tax credits for purchases of new electric vehicles so the price could be even lower for some.
Buyers will want to look closely at what they’re getting for that low, low price, though. The K27 can drive 100 miles on a single charge, according to the company. Kandi’s cars are not yet listed on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s fueleconomy.gov web site, so that range might not be comparable to official EPA ranges of other electric cars. It also remains unclear just how safe and reliable these cars are.
The Kandi K27 gets that far, at least in part, by not asking much from its small 18 kilowatt-hour battery pack. Its electric motor manages only 27 horsepower and the car’s top speed is just 63 miles an hour.
Given its weak motor, the K27 takes a while to reach that top speed, Kandi America chief executive Johnny Tai admitted. CNN Business has not had the chance to test drive any of the company’s cars.
The K27 is intended to be an urban errand runner, essentially a step or two up from an electric motorbike, he said. It is not expected to fill the role of an everyday car that can take a family on long road trips, Tai added.
For customers looking for something more like a “real car,” Kandi offers the K23. Bucking more than a century of auto industry tradition, Kandi gave its larger, more expensive car a lower number than the smaller, cheaper model. The numbers relate to when the models were introduced rather than to their size or sophistication, Tai explained.
Besides being roomier – it’s 1.7 feet longer – the K23 has a top speed of 70 miles an hour and driving range of 188 miles, according to Kandi. The K23’s battery pack is nearly twice as big as the K27’s, which contributes to it being more than 680 pounds heavier.
While the motor’s overall power isn’t much higher, the motor provides a very different level of performance from the one in the K27, the company explained in an email. Even so, this car will also not be quick, Tai admitted.
The first 1,000 K23’s sold will cost about $20,000 after the federal tax credit – about twice as much as the K27 but still affordable compared to most electric cars on the market. After those first 1,000 are spoken for, the price will go up to about $30,000, or $22,500 after the tax credit.
For interested American buyers, much remains unknown about Kandi. Besides the cars’ performance, there are still questions about reliability and safety. Kandi America said it has partnered with Wrench, a company that provides on-site auto repair and maintenance services, to take care of customers’ cars. Besides a legally mandated eight-year warranty on the battery, the cars also have a four year, 50,000-mile basic warranty.
As for the cars’ safety, that’s not yet clear.
“Safety is always our number one priority and Kandi has been certified by NHTSA” Tai said, referring to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Kandi has made similar claims before, pointing to the company having been “certified” or “approved” by NHTSA as proof of the cars’ safety. But that’s not how it works.
NHTSA does not certify companies or cars. Manufacturers themselves must “certify that their products comply with all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards and must ensure they are free of safety-related defects,” according to a statement from NHTSA.
NHTSA does not proactively test cars before they go on sale in the US, although the agency may check them afterward to ensure compliance, said Coleman Sachs, an auto industry consultant.
Kandi said that its cars, which have been used for car sharing services in China, have passed crash tests there. Kandi has made cars in China since 2007, a Kandi spokesperson said. The new K23 and K27, which are not yet on China’s roads, are similar to earlier Kandi models available there, the spokesperson said in an email.
However, despite guidance from Kandi America, CNN reporters in China were unable to find any records of crash tests of the K23, K27, or other Kandi models in China. Kandi also did not share its own documentation of crash tests based on either Chinese or US testing standards despite repeated requests from CNN.
Asked if the new Kandi cars’ crash test scores would be competitive with those of other vehicles sold in America, most of which have four- and five-star crash test ratings on NHTSA’s safercar.gov website, Tai did not say.
“I don’t think that we want to compete with Tesla or anyone,” he said in response. “We want to have a new category for people who are thinking, ‘Hey, I want an electric car, I want to do good for the environment, but I also want to save money.’”
Both the K23 and K27 are expected to be available for US customers by the end of this year. Kandi had originally planned to introduce the cars in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas area, then gradually roll out its dealership network across the country. The company is now accelerating those plans after receiving intense interest from dealers across the country, Tai said.
Kandi America’s parent company, Kandi Technologies Group (KNDI), is currently the subject of lawsuits over earnings restatements it made to financial reports between 2014 and 2017. The company has denied any intentional wrongdoing and says the restatements, which did not result in any material change to the company’s apparent financial results, were simply the result of accounting errors.
The company had been looking into bringing other models here before deciding to only import the K23 and K27 for now, Tai said. (Another Kandi car, the Coco, an electric car that looked similar to Daimler’s Smart car, was sold in the US years ago by an outside company.)
Other cars and SUVs may come in the future, Tai said, but those decisions have not been made yet. The company has no ambitions to move upmarket and start selling more expensive cars, he said.
“We want to provide a better value,” Tai said. “That is what we are looking for and, and we’ll continue.”