China-made electric pickup could be yours for $5K

Bloomberg News
The Pickman tops out at 28 miles per hour.

Chinese automakers have tried to crack the U.S. market for over a decade. A petite $5,000 pickup truck is up next.

Kaiyun Motors is poised to start mass exports to the U.S. in 2019 after spending the past four years analyzing consumer needs, founder Wang Chao said in a phone interview. The startup has the required approvals and plans to sell as many as 10,000 of its Pickman electric trucks in the U.S. this year, he said.

The company is trying to win over cost-conscious buyers with stuff to haul and no need for a larger pickup such as Ford Motor Co.’s F-150, America’s best-selling model. The Pickman, with a top speed of 28 miles per hour, is suitable for farm owners, factory employees moving loads at their work sites, and commuters, Wang said.

While the Pickman is nimbler than U.S.-built pickups and costs as little as one-tenth of a F-150, its limited speed and driving range of 75 miles on one charge may put off some potential customers. Chinese brands also need to convince U.S. buyers of their quality and safety features in a market that’s been dominated by domestic and Japanese manufacturers for decades.

“2019 will be year one for Kaiyun as we take on overseas markets including the U.S.,” Wang said. “We can make our Pickman as successful as the F-150.”

In China, the battery-powered Pickman carries a price tag of 16,800 yuan ($2,470), less than the cost of two higher-end iPhones. The pickup will be sold for $5,000 in the U.S. and 5,000 euros ($5,700) in Europe, as variants in those markets come with revisions and added features such as reinforced structures and storage space for guns.

“I can imagine people in North America and Europe will use the Pickman as utility vehicles in construction sites,” said Steve Man, an auto analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in Hong Kong. Beyond that, it remains to be seen if western consumers are willing to replace their larger pickups with the Pickman, he said.

Wang said his company shipped a small volume of Pickmans to the U.S. over the past year to test them out and get consumer feedback, and has continued to tailor the vehicle to the market. The company cleared regulatory approvals and certification processes for sales in the European Union in January and will start shipping the first batch of Pickmans to Germany and Italy after next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, he said.

With a capacity to carry 1,100 pounds of goods, the vehicle will be enough for most pickup users, Wang said. As part of its expansion plans, the company is selecting a site for a South American factory, he said.

“Mini electric vehicles are more than enough to meet consumers’ daily needs,” Wang said. “There is a huge market out there around the world.”