For those who have had the pleasure of discovering my weekly column on weird electric vehicles from China (or for those with a less robust sense of humor who have had the displeasure of finding it), you’ll know I love trawling through Alibaba’s long list of wacky electric vehicles. I often find some real nuggets of treasure, and sometimes I even go as far as buying and importing them to the US.
Make no mistake: It’s a terrible idea that is fraught with problems. That’s why I always advise against my readers following my lead. But sometimes, just sometimes, some of you foolhardy folks will climb up and over all of my disclaimers to try your own hands at getting the weirdest wheeled vehicles that China can muster.
That’s the case with one Kentucky man who was inspired by my own ill-advised shenanigans and decided to try his hand at a bad idea that ultimately worked out quite well.
I’ll call him Hector, because that’s his name, and he said I could use it. Hector liked the standing electric ATV that I covered in an article last year and fancied the idea of one day having his own. But instead of leaving it at that, he was bitten by the same Alibaba bug as me and sought out a way to make it happen.
And I don’t blame him. This thing looks pretty awesome on paper. It’s an all-wheel-drive design with 6,000 watts of power, full-suspension, and the ability to add a pile of accessories. The top speed of 60 km/h (37 mph) is likely fast enough for most riders, as I’m not sure many people want to involuntarily dismount going any fast than that, in the unlikely event that something goes wrong on a ride.
The design is so cool because it’s not exactly original. In fact, it’s pretty much a rip-off of the Israeli-designed off-road vehicle known as the DSRaider. It’s not quite as rugged, but it’s much cheaper.
Priced at $4,000, the Chinese version is significantly more affordable than the original, which is often used by military and police units in various parts of the world.
Hector messaged the vendor, Zhejiang LVDU Industry & Trade corporation, and resisted their attempts to receive payment for the ATV by wire transfer, which can be problematic if there’s ever an issue with the vehicle or its delivery.
“I contacted them to get the vehicle specs, and they suggested a wire transfer payment that I declined,” explained Hector. “They returned and offered to do it through Alibaba, and I accepted.”
Alibaba’s internal payment platform is safer than a wire transfer since Alibaba offers some marginal buyer protections, though many vendors won’t use it because it delays their ability to receive the funds.
From there, Hector began choosing his desired accessories. “I added some accessories for the vehicle, such as bigger tires, a basket, a beacon light post, and a vertical rack for cargo,” he continued.
The accessories added up to US $322, and the factory threw in a seat for free.
The seller offered Hector a shipping option under terms known as DDP, or Delivered Duty Paid. This is one of many forms of international freight agreements, and it means that the seller is responsible for everything required to get the product to the customer’s door. That means importing, customs clearance, customs fees, trucking to final destination, etc. The charge for DDP was US $1,295. After the added taxes (yes, Alibaba is required by law to collect US sales tax on purchases from Americans), the total that Hector paid came out to US $6,094.29. In theory, the DDP terms mean that this should be the final payment, and everything else should be handled by the shipper.
Hector submitted the payment through Alibaba’s payment platform, which provides some level of buyer protection through escrow (though I’ve still been screwed in the past anyway). That payment started the production of Hector’s new electric ATV, and the factory came back to him with the proof-of-life pictures below.
So far, so good.
The next step was local shipping. The electric ATV had to be packaged up for its journey and sent to a freight forwarder.
The factory took care of these steps, updating Hector along the way.
Hector then received the images below, showing how the ATV was packaged and loaded into a truck to be taken to a freight forwarder for containerization.
The factory created a steel shipping cage for the vehicle and then covered it in a cardboard exterior. This is fairly common, though I try to ask for a wooden crate to ensure better protection, especially when I know my product will be placed in a container with many other customers’ one-off shipments.
It took around six weeks for the ship to make its way from China to California, where it off-loaded the container and Hector’s shipment was stripped and prepared for land transport.
The factory’s freight forwarder handled the customs clearance process and booked the ATV with a trucking service to send it inland on the long journey to Kentucky.
Another week and a half later, a lift-gate truck rolled up to Hector’s driveway and off-loaded the package.
There it was, in all its standing electric ATV glory.
Somehow it had travelled from the factory in China to a Kentucky driveway for a mere $1,295. As someone who has imported more than his fair share of weird vehicles from China, believe me when I tell you how extraordinarily rare that is.
Just trucking alone could easily cost that much for a trip from California to Kentucky. Just the customs charges on this type of vehicle should have cost that much, especially considering this should have been subject to 25% tariffs for Chinese goods imported to the US (and it isn’t on the exclusion list).
Either the factory’s freight forwarder did some shady magic to slip this ATV through for so cheap, or they didn’t realize how much transit charges, arrival charges, customs charges, broker fees and cross-country trucking would cost in the end.
But whatever the reason, Hector managed to land this thing for a total of just under US $6,100.
Unpacking the cage showed very minimal damage to the vehicle from shipping. “The shipping package received some damage on the metal housing, but only the skin of the brake line was damaged,” Hector explained to me. “There was also an issue with the turn signal lights. I communicated with the seller, and they have shipped the rear and front turn lights with the wire assembly and the brake line. They also sent me videos on how to fix it.”
So far, Hector seems quite satisfied with the electric standing ATV. “The vehicle is well made, and I’m happy with my transaction.”
And by the look of his dog, the pup doesn’t seem to mind, either.
A word of caution on Alibaba purchases
I enjoy sharing these stories because it’s fun to see what kinds of things people can find and bring home. Alibaba is full of weird electric vehicles, largely because China leads the world in electric vehicle design and manufacturing. I’ve bought electric mini-trucks, e-ATVs, e-boats, electric construction equipment, e-bikes, e-motorcycles, and more. And with enough experience (and enough mistakes made in the past), it usually goes pretty well for me now.
But I always advise against anyone actually following my lead. Hector was surprisingly successful here, but it doesn’t always go this well. I’ve heard from multiple people who tried to buy electric mini-trucks similar to mine, only to have the shipment stopped by Customs and Border Patrol for one reason or another and not allowed into the country.
I’ve seen batteries shoot sparks and let out smoke the first time I turn the product on.
I’ve had vendors simply ghost me, nowhere to be found anymore.
I’ve had Alibaba auto-approve delivery of my products while they’re still in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, releasing my funds in escrow to the vendor.
It’s a dangerous game fraught with risk and pitfalls. So while it can be fun to live vicariously through people like Hector and myself, I don’t recommend trying this at home. At least not unless you’re willing to lay down $6,000 with the understanding that you might never see it again.
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