Future cloudy for 'senior friendly' vehicles

2023-05-31 11:00:42China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

An electric three-wheeler is driven on a street in Beijing's Haidian district last month. (NIU YUNGANG/FOR CHINA DAILY)

Unlicensed electric three-wheelers and four-wheelers known as laotoule have long been popular among the elderly in China.

Many seniors use laotoule, which literally means "joy for the elderly", for short-distance errands such as picking up their grandchildren from school and buying groceries.

They like using the low-speed vehicles because they are easy to drive and park. The vehicles are also not subject to traffic rules that are applied to motorized vehicles, or to receiving tickets for illegal parking.

Li Xiang, a Beijing native, bought a laotoule several years ago so his father could use it to pick up Li's child from school. The vehicle was bought for less than 30,000 yuan ($4,250), a price much lower than a normal electric car. It runs at a maximum speed of 45 kilometers per hour with a battery range of about 100 km.

"I also use it myself sometimes," said Li, adding that it is easy to park thanks to its compact size.

However, the use of laotoule has been controversial for a variety of reasons, including safety concerns.

"The manufacturers of these vehicles are often small, rural or township enterprises or even workshops, and there are no national standards for their production, so some of them are of poor quality," said Zhang Xiang, an automotive industry analyst.

Statistics from the Beijing Public Security Bureau show that in 2022, the city reported over 100 deaths caused by road accidents involving laotoule. From 2012 to 2016, nearly 20,000 people across the country died of accidents involving low-speed electric vehicles, according to data released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

In response to the growing concerns, some local governments have introduced measures to restrict the use of laotoule.

Starting next year, for example, Beijing will ban the use of illegal electric three-wheelers and four-wheelers on roads and in public spaces such as squares and parking lots.

The proposed ban has been warmly welcomed by residents who have long complained about the vehicles being randomly parked, occupying electric charging stations and other alleged misdeeds. However, some believe the government should not rush to implement the ban.

"Many think the low-speed electric vehicles are energy-saving, environmentally friendly and cater to the travel needs of the low-income population," said Dong Yang, vice-president of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

Dong said creating regulations for such vehicles is a complex and challenging issue.

"It involves multiple departments, and there is a lack of consensus," he said.

Wang Junjin, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body, suggested promoting the use of low-cost electric cars as an alternative to laotoule.

However, the cost of buying the vehicles, which normally ranges from 7,000 to 40,000 yuan, is significantly lower than that of new energy vehicles, which may prevent some low-income residents from making the shift.

In addition, there are other advantages of using laotoule that make it hard for drivers to give them up.

"My father is too old, and it is not practical for him to take a driver's license test," said Li Xiang, from Beijing.

Wang said that with the future of these vehicles hanging in the balance, many hope that laotoule will continue to serve the elderly population under improved regulations.


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