If you haven’t already had the pleasure of discovering it, I write a fun column called the Awesomely Weird Alibaba Electric Vehicle of the Week. Each week I go spelunking into the caverns of the Alibaba electric vehicle catalog and find something awesome, weird, and usually surprisingly low-cost to share with the world. I’ve wanted to purchase a lot of these myself, and I even did pull the trigger on an electric pickup truck recently. But it turns out that I’m not the only one who has been bitten by the weird Alibaba EV bug – as an Electrek reader shared with us his experience purchasing the $1,700 electric mini-Jeep I found earlier this year.
Amazingly the Jeep was actually even more affordable than that – a mere $1,280.
But based on my conversations with the Chinese factory, the final price shipped seem to a US port seemed to put it closer to $1,700.
That seems to be pretty close to what Electrek reader Kyle Day found too when he set out to order his own electric Jeep.
He originally told me several months ago that he planned to buy one and have it sent to the US. I offered him my customs broker’s contact info (I have a problem and it’s called “buying too much weird stuff from overseas”) and I asked him to keep me updated about how the process went.
The whole exercise was fairly new to Kyle, but ultimately he made it through the purchase, importation, customs clearance, and delivery steps to receive his very own electric mini Jeep. But the adventure wasn’t over there – because it turns out that getting the Jeep assembled was a bit more of a task than any of us had expected.
Read on for my interview with Kyle and to live out his experience vicariously. And also be sure to check out his advice at the end for anyone planning to buy their own electric vehicle from Alibaba.
Micah: So what made you decide to pull the trigger on buying this electric mini Jeep? Did you have any specific plans for it?
Kyle: I have never made a purchase on Alibaba before, but I’m a reasonably experienced online purchaser. I’m also a regular reader of Electrek and enjoy the “Weird Alibaba EV of the Week” features. About three months ago I saw your feature of the mini electric Jeep, and we were actually camping as a family that weekend. I thought the Jeep would be a really fun off-road electric vehicle for my young kids to enjoy while we’re camping – perfect for little joy rides and exploring in the forest on an overnight campout. We have young kids who are slightly too big for the traditional “power wheels” – but are too little for gas-powered ATVs. So this mini-jeep was the perfect fit for my kids (and it fits small adults too in a funny and slightly awkward way). My wife really enjoys driving it down the street to drop off kids at friends houses. It’s like a golf cart, but way cooler.
Micah: What was the process like to communicate with the seller and customize the Jeep with any optional upgrades?
Kyle: I downloaded the Alibaba app and followed your link to the seller on Electrek. Alan (later I found out that Alan is the wife of the head of manufacturing for the company) was very friendly and helpful in answering my questions. I learned that Alibaba is a somewhat decent platform for purchasing products in non-Chinese currency in English. I’ve come to learn that when I send a message in English, the app auto translates my messages to Chinese, and vice versa. So there is some auto-translation barrier that adds some slight friction in asking/answering detailed questions, but by and large I felt comfortable that I understood the vague details about the product I was ordering and the options I was adding to the unit above and beyond the base price.
As you yourself saw, the seller provides an “option” listing with descriptions, pictures, and prices. It’s a bit of an exercise in hope/faith in that you have no idea if the value of the options you are adding are a smart idea or not. All said, I ordered all available options for the Jeep (leather seats, seat belts, wheel fenders – “wheel eyelids”???), accessory gas can and spare wheel, large lithium battery, winch, etc. The options costs were relatively minor compared to the unit cost, so I ordered the kitchen sink of mini-Jeeps.
Micah: So what were your total costs for the vehicle, and were there any other surprise costs along the way?
Kyle: Your advice in your article for being prepared for all the ancillary fees for an Alibaba order was really helpful, so I was prepared at the outset. I knew that this would be an “adventure” of a purchase and I was doing this as much for the experience as I was interested in actually owning the Jeep itself. I used it as an opportunity to learn the process of importing vehicles to the US, paying tariffs and duties, dealing with customs, tracking ocean containers and ships, etc. I had no idea the global logistics system was as interesting and multi-layered as it is.
The easiest part of the whole experience was initiating an order, selecting options, and paying for the order. Alan, the seller, responded quickly to my questions and provided me with an estimate for the base cost plus all add-ons that I could approve and then pay. The unit itself was about $1,590 (base price plus add-ons), plus a $200 “sample fee” (waived if ordering five or more units), plus $180 shipping cost. I couldn’t convince my wife to let me order five units, so we went with one. So I had to pay the seller $1,970 (which I was happy to do). The seller provided me the option to wire the money, or pay directly through Alibaba. I chose to pay through Alibaba using Apple Pay (!?) via my preferred credit card. I liked that method because it offered me potential fraud/chargeback coverage. I paid a ~$60 fee for using a credit card/Alibaba payment platform, so that was about $2,030 – and that price included the product manufactured and shipped via ocean carrier to my closest major ocean port (Los Angeles). It’s amazing how cheap ocean shipping is to your local port. Getting it out of the port and to your home are where the real challenge is.
The seller guaranteed the product would be shipped within 15 days of payment – and they held up their end of the deal. I received a photo (very vague photo) of the packed product ready to load into a container and was notified after about 12 days after my order was placed that the container was being sent to the Ningbo port in China. After a few days, I was notified by the seller and provided a bill of lading, which had information about the container number and ocean vessel that would be transporting my product.
Then I waited – and I watched the news of the blockage of the Evergreen ship in the Suez canal and wondered what types of delays my own container ship would have getting from China to Los Angeles (probably none given there’s no canals to traverse). One of the nice things of the bill of lading is that the container number is listed – and I could use that container number to track the container and vessel during the voyage. I signed up using an internet website (there are many) to track updates for loading/shipping/arrival of my container at various stages. It took about seven weeks to go from the seller delivering the product to Ningbo port to showing up in Los Angeles. The actual ocean voyage is only 18 days, but waiting for the ship to arrive at Ningbo, be loaded, travel across the ocean and get to Los Angeles, then wait for a berth, then moor at the terminal and unload all take time.
I knew going into this process that tariffs, customs, and fees were going to meaningfully add costs to the overall cost of the Jeep. The unfortunate reality is that duties, tariffs, and customs fees are geared toward volume. Any time you purchase a small quantity of units, the per-unit costs of importing are egregious. All of the customs, tariffs, and fees added about $1,000 on top of the $2,000 purchase cost for a total cost of around $3,000 (to get it at Los Angeles, much less the fuel/time for pickup). The biggest issue was the 25% tariff added on top of the invoice cost due to the ATV being in a category of imported product that is just unfavorably expensive. Oh well.
Micah: Was customs clearance an issue, or did it go smoothly?
Kyle: Customs Clearance was a new process for me, but conceptually it made sense. You were kind enough to connect me with a great customs clearance firm. The broker was responsive and had me fill out a few easy forms, sign a power of attorney, and he handled the filings with several US agencies as part of the import process. He provided me an accurate quote for the customs/tariffs costs, which had to be paid at time of pickup in Los Angeles, and I paid his own fees via Venmo. He made it simple and answered my questions generally. He provided me with the forms I would need to pickup the product at the deconsolidation warehouse. I probably paid extra for convenience (he wasn’t particularly cheap), but it was worth it.
Micah: Did the Jeep arrive to your door or did you have to transport it home yourself from a depot?
Kyle: I wasn’t offered a choice, and when I inquired with the shipping company who was responsible for the container, I was told that “personal shipments” (i.e., non-commercial) are not available for inland shipping and I needed to pick it up at the warehouse in Los Angeles. I was fine with this – I imagine freight costs would have added a bunch of cost to get it to my door, and I was in this for an adventure! Los Angeles is only six hours from Phoenix, so I knew I could drive out to Los Angeles in my pickup truck, grab the package, and drive home all in the same day.
When the big day came where I received an email of “notice of arrival” – I actually took the day off at work and decided to hit the road and head to Los Angeles. The deconsolidation warehouse closes at 6 p.m., so I had to arrive in Los Angeles before then. I arrived in Los Angeles around 4 p.m. and figured pickup would be fast and I could be home in Phoenix by around 10 p.m. The biggest surprise of this whole process was the length of time required to pick up an order at the customs deconsolidation warehouse. I waited for about two hours in line to pick up my product. Think of a giant warehouse with lots of trucks waiting to be loaded/unloaded, and a few individuals sitting in line waiting to pick up their own orders (me). I had to wait for eight trucks to be loaded before I could get my single pallet order.
Once my turn came, they loaded the Jeep into the back of my pickup truck and I drove back to Phoenix with a giant smile. All that effort and waiting had finally shown some result.
Micah: Can you tell me more about the assembly issues you had mentioned to me previously? Did you talk to the seller about them afterwards, or just chalk it up to part of the experience?
Kyle: Once I got home, I had to unpack the pallet. I had absolutely no idea how assembled (or non-assembled) the Jeep would be. Not very is the answer. Not very.
I unpacked the box and pulled out the wheels, suspension parts, windshield, steering wheel, seats, seat belts, winch, etc. Absolutely no instructions were provided, but at some point you have to take the bull by the horns and start turning a wrench and just attach things that make the most sense. The Jeep is a few hundred pounds, so it took a jack to get the unit prepared by attaching suspension arms, attaching wheels, etc. It’s a good thing I like working with my hands, because HOLY COW did it require more work than I anticipated.
First, the Jeep was fairly well designed, but some items clearly weren’t quality tested. For example, there were several mount points where I was supposed to insert a bolt or attach an arm rest or secure the windshield and the mount points simply did not line up. I quickly fixed those issues with a cutoff wheel and a welder to re-align the mounts correctly. I can’t imagine a non-handy person being successful in assembling the Jeep, much less modifying welded mount points that need some encouragement.
Furthermore, I had a slightly bent wheel hub that caused the inside of the wheel rim to rub against the brake caliper when rotating (think whompy wheel). A quick grind fixed this, and the seller was kind enough to send a new wheel hub to me via UPS (which took like three weeks).
I did contact the seller about these quality issues, and they were communicative and apologetic, but at the end of the day I just used a cutoff wheel and a welder to fix things to how I wanted.
The winch that came with my Jeep came in a box. I suppose it is my job to figure out how to mount it to the frame, and no mount was included (apparently it was missing). Again, a quick weld job fixed that issue. Wiring up the winch was fairly easy for anybody handy with 12v skills and a wrench.
I was pleasantly surprised that there is a horn, a speedometer, battery charge indicator, blinker lights, brake lights, headlights, D/N/R switch, and Fast/Slow speed selector. Pretty good stuff.
Micah: So how does the vehicle perform? Are the power, speed, range, or other specs up to your expectations?
Kyle: All told, the Jeep is perfect for its intended use – primarily for kids with off-road use while camping. The power is fairly low, though adequate. When used on local roads, I believe top speed is around 25mph (speedometer is less than correct), and while I haven’t fully tested the range, I’d estimate that it could go maybe 5-10 miles total on the large lithium battery that I have. That is significantly less than the 48 miles advertised. Who knows, maybe I could get much more range than I’m guessing I will, but in my driving around town I really don’t think I could.
Still, I’m perfectly happy with what I received and what it does – it’s a medium-sized kids’ toy, or a small adult play thing. Fits our needs perfectly and everyone who sees it wants to drive it and have some fun.
Micah: Were there any other surprises you encountered? Do you have advice for anyone that wants to make a similar purchase?
Kyle: Don’t get frustrated with customs/tariffs – just know it sucks and forget about it. Otherwise, the purchase process was fairly decent and communication with the seller was good. I’d encourage anyone that may want to purchase one to be ready to assemble the unit and perhaps be prepared to adjust a few things that they prefer fit better.
$3K and 7 weeks later, a 25mph electric mini Jeep!
So there you have it: the ins and outs of Kyle’s experience importing and assembling an Alibaba electric vehicle.
The assembly was certainly more involved than I expected, but the shipping price was much lower because of that (just $180 all the way from China!). For comparison, I just purchased an electric pickup truck from Alibaba that will arrive almost fully assembled (the factory just sent me the photo below this morning of it being prepared for loading). In fully assembled form, the LCL freight is an outrageous $2,200! So Kyle definitely saved some serious cash by being able to assemble it himself from a crated pile of parts.
I was certainly surprised by how much modification was required on the user’s end in order to successfully assemble the mini-Jeep. This isn’t an Ikea coffee table; it obviously required the user to have some serious hands-on skills.
Fortunately Kyle does, and he’s actually been featured on Electrek before for some Tesla tinkering he has done. But the average person who doesn’t keep a welder in their garage might have run into some serious problems.
That’s something to consider when purchasing a product that comes in a highly dis-assembled fashion.
Fortunately the rest of the process seems to have gone quite smoothly. If anyone reading this decides to purchase their own Awesomely Weird Alibaba Electric Vehicle of the Week, be sure to reach out and let me know how it goes!
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