Who says electric cars aren't working in China?
Certainly not Kandi, whose electric car-sharing service--that hires out electric vehicles from vending-machine like buildings--is proving profitable and moving into other Chinese cities.
Kandi's service started off in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, echoing a bike-sharing scheme previous offered in the city.
Several multi-storey buildings sprang up across the city stacked with small two-seat electric vehicles made by Kandi itself. Similar to the Smart Fortwo in concept, the vehicles offer a 75-mile range.
Customers can simply select a car from the tower and, for the equivalent of $3.25 an hour, head off across the city to deposit it in another tower.
The company plans to have 750 towers across the city over the next four years, with 100,000 vehicles as part of a joint venture with automaker Geely--but as Bloomberg reports (via Charged EVs), Kandi is set to expand to other Chinese cities too.
Kandi's shares tripled in 2013 and the service is already proving profitable. It's proving so successful that representatives from some of China's largest cities, Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu, have spoken with the company with a view to expanding the service elsewhere.
The company is selecting local partners to work with in these cities, as well as working with the local government in Hangzhou itself to add rental stations to convenient locations like public parking lots, railway stations, hotels and department stores.
Kandi electric car vending machine in China (Image: Aaron Rockett, video screen grab)
Such expansion may take three to five years, but the company sees its service as one of the best ways of bypassing common obstacles for new electric car users such as finding somewhere to charge.
Pricing is also extremely competitive. Beyond a certain distance, it's actually cheaper than taking a taxi--Bloomberg spoke to one Kandi user, Lu Pin, whose 90-minute drive cost just a third of what it would in taxi fare.
Then there's the environmental benefits for China's heavily-polluted cities.
When airborne pollutants register levels 40 times higher than those recommended by the World Health Organization, electric vehicles have never looked so relevant.
China is finally coming around to the idea of electric vehicles and their benefits to local air quality, and the country's central government has recently scaled back plans to cut subsidies and financial incentives on the vehicles to spur demand.
While electric car sales may barely have topped 14,600 units last year in China, it could be that services such as Kandi are the ideal alternative.
When polluting taxis or unsafe bicycle and scooter travel is the only other way of getting across a city, renting an electric car looks like the perfect solution--and Kandi's growing success is the proof.