Yesterday Dallas-based electric vehicle firm Green Automotive Company announced it was sending two of its all-electric Zotye electric SUVs to be tested for compliance with Federal Motor Safety Standards at independent engineering firm Roush Industries. 

But while GAC’s website promises it is providing the “First 100% Electric SUV” to U.S. consumers, investigators in China are still exploring a terrifying incident which took place in early April in which resulted in one Zotye electric car bursting into flames. 

The incident, reported by Automotive News China, took place on April 11 and involved one of a 30-strong fleet of Zotye electric cars being used as a taxi in the city of Hangzhou in east China. 

No-one was hurt in the fire, but officials in the city halted the use of the entire fleet until the cause of the fire have been discovered.  Initial speculation in the media pointed to an overheating battery pack, but as yet no official cause has been given by the firm.

GAC Zoyte Electric SUV

GAC Zoyte Electric SUV

Although the model which caught flames is not the car being sold in the U.S. any suspected fire has to cause concern among buyers. As anyone who has followed the notoriously combustable Indian-built Tata Nano will tell you, barbecued car generally doesn’t help sales. 

Beyond the fire worries, we cant help but think the specifications for the U.S. market Zoyte SUV don’t add up. 

The Zoyte Electric SUV looks a little like a mini-me version of the 1997-2002 Kia Sportage but is actually based on the Zoyte Nomad, a clone of the 1997-2005  Diahatsu Terios.

Due to its diminutive size, the Zoyte Electric SUV features seating for four, putting it in a similar size class to the 2012 Mitsubishi ‘i’. 

GAC Zoyte Electric SUV

GAC Zoyte Electric SUV

With a curb weight of 2,640 lbs, a battery capacity of 52 25.6 kilowatt-hours and a disappointingly small 27 kilowatt DC motor, the maximum speed of 70 mph and range of up to 150 miles seem a little optimistic on paper, at least if any spirited driving is entered into. 

The press release from GAC also hints that the car is not even ready for the U.S. market yet, indicating that “follow-up meetings to discuss the results and supplemental restraint system integration plans” will follow the initial testing at Roush Industries. 

In other words, expect the car to get heavier, translating to poorer performance and perhaps even reduced range. 

Safety concerns aside however, GAC face a bigger problem: finding buyers willing to pay $35,995 for its four-seat SUV. 

Given its unproven track record, we think the similarly sized Mitsubishi ‘i’ with its 30 minute rapid charge port and nationwide dealer support sounds a more promising deal than the as yet-unkown GAC Zoyte Electric SUV. 

Does the Zoyte stand a chance against larger mainstream all-electric cars? Would you buy one? Let us know in the Comments below.


[Automotive News China (Subscription Required), Green Automotive Company]