3 Brave People Pushing The Limits Of Their Tiny EVs

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A few weeks ago, while travelling to visit my grandfather, I looked out the window and noticed something unusual.

Riding alongside cars, trucks, and buses in the roadway (normally used by cyclists training on Saturday morning), we passed by several small electric mopeds, the likes of which have become very popular in a city as crowded as Bogota. These mopeds are usually powered by 500W to 1200W motors, rarely support speeds over 50 km/h, and have either lead-acid or lithium-ion batteries under 2kWh capacity: by no means are they vehicles designed for road trips.

But the realities of developing countries are such that people can (and will) get by with what they can afford, and not necessarily what’s best suited for the task. And many times, they will publish their stories on social media. So I set out to find how far people are taking their small EVs — clearly not designed for travelling — and what their experiences have been like, particularly in the harsh Colombian geography.

As a side note, many of these mopeds are not being registered (even though they should be), so tracking sales numbers is hard, but it seems the total number of electric two-wheelers sold in 2022 (including e-bicycles, scooters, and mopeds) corresponded to almost 10% of national motorcycle sales. Keep in mind we’re talking about the second largest motorcycle market in the Western Hemisphere (822,000 units in 2022), so the numbers are nothing to scuff at.

Trip #1: Girardot—Bogota on a moped

  • Distance: 130 km.
  • Altitude: 350 to 2600 meters over sea level.
  • Vehicle: Bee 1500 Moped (1.5kW).

Bogota, Colombia’s capital city, is located at 2600 meters over sea level. That makes the city surprisingly cold, and means that lower, warmer towns are popular holiday destinations. Girardot, located west of Bogota at 300 meters over sea level, is one of these towns.

The trip involved two “Bee 1500” mopeds with 1.4 kWh and 3.6 kWh batteries and a 2.2 kWh spare battery each. Though the average speed wasn’t mentioned, this is a road full of turns and stiff climbs, and the 1.5 kW motor could hardly run at more than 45 km/h.

The trip, though a success, did show the limitations of e-mopeds, as the 3.6 kWh one started running out of capacity just one kilometer shy of the highest part of the road (33 km from Bogota). Paradoxically, the moped with 1.4 kWh capacity was able to arrive in Bogota with the 2.2 kWh spare (which still had 10% charge), while the 3.6 kWh one (in theory, having the same capacity as the other two together) couldn’t, and required its spare battery as well. On average, the two Bee 1500s were able to get some 35 km/kWh, an impressive result given the stiff climb they faced.

It’s worth noting that mopeds and small electric motorcycles rarely if ever offer fast charging, and most of them also lack regenerative braking. Nowadays, the Bee 1500 is being sold in the country at a cost of 6,990,000 COP, or $1,676, for the 1.4 kWh version.

The Girardot–Melgar–Bogota route, showing the flat valley where both warm towns stand and then the steep climb to Bogota.

Trip #2: Bogota—Melgar—Bogota in a quadricycle

  • Distance: 107 km.
  • Altitude: 350 to 2600 meters over sea level.
  • Vehicle: Zhidou D2S (30kW)

We’ve already mentioned the Zhidou D2S here on CleanTechnica. It is the most sold EV in Colombia (though, sales fell swiftly in May to only 16 units). Armed with a 18 kWh battery, this two-seater promises a 150 km range, though it lacks fast-charging capabilities.

Melgar is located near Girardot, at nearly the same altitude (and is a popular travel destination for the same reasons), but 30 km closer to Bogota. Unlike the Bee 1500, the Zhidou D2S does have regenerative braking, which allowed it to finish the 107 km ride with 80% battery thanks to the altitude difference between Bogota and Melgar.

Much more challenging would be the return, going up more than two kilometers to get to Bogota. The trip started after charging up to 99%, and like in the previous case, speeds aren’t mentioned, but given the realities of the road (full of turns and traffic) it’s likely that the average was under 60 km/h.

In any case, the vehicle was able to enter Bogota with 24% charge, spending another 6% to arrive at its destination with 18% battery charge. The result even surprised the owner (who wasn’t even sure the Zhidou was going to make it) and presented an average of 7.24 km/kWh, a decent efficiency given the circumstances, but miles away from the Bee 1500 due to the Zhidou being much larger weight. However, if we consider both parts of the trip, the average goes up to 11.27 km/kWh, which is an impressive amount even for a quadricycle.

Trip #3: Bogota–Medellin in a City Car

  • Distance: 412 km.
  • Altitude: 2600 meters to 217 meters to 1475 meters over sea level.
  • Vehicle: Changan E-Star (Changan Benni, 55 kW).

The Changan Benni, re-branded Changan E-Star in Colombia, was sold in 2021 and 2022 at a price of 85,000,000 COP, or $20,000, for the 32 kWh version. However, it’s likely the price would’ve increased by now. The vehicle is still on Changan’s local webpage, but the price has since been removed, so perhaps a new batch will arrive and new pricing will be presented, or perhaps it’s on its way out.

Regardless, it’s a popular(ish) vehicle and was used by some cab owners and rental companies, granting decent sales while it lasted. And one of its owners decided to try it on a 412 km trip from Bogota down into the Magdalena Valley and up to Medellin.

Most of you would’ve noticed by now that this is the first trip where the battery just isn’t enough (even with the optimistic 300 km that the E-Star claims to have). That means that this trip would require a fast charger … yet none is available in that route, or at least none that offers the GB/T (Chinese) standard.

And herein lies the issue. For, the car was able to arrive to Magdalena Valley, 190 km from Bogota (at the lowest elevation on the trip), at 67% battery, where it found the only charging station on the route: Terpel Montecristo. Yet this is an old station (the first one ever placed in the country), and it favors CHAdeMO over GB/T, so the car needed to charge using its Type 2 adapter at an annoyingly low speed: 5 and a half hours were needed to get back to 100%, and no less could be accepted because the remaining 222 km would be going up instead of down. Indeed, the car arrived in Medellin with only 8% SOC.

Yet, I find this result impressive. A 32 kWh city car was able to go 222 km while ascending nearly a kilometer and a half. The efficiency amounts to 18 km/kWh on the way down and 7.5 km/kWh on the way up, for a total average of 9.8 km/kWh. The trip took a total of 12 hours, 6 and a half of which were driving time (which is around the average for that trip). This means that the two largest Colombian cities only need a couple of GB/T fast chargers for these small vehicles to be able to easily go from one to the other.

Trips like these push the limits of vehicle and driver both, yet they pave the way for those to come, and show that even EVs normally limited to city use can provide travel options. We hope that infrastructure will improve and many more people will take their small EVs (that make up the vast majority of electric vehicles here) to more and more adventurous destinations.

Video links again: Trip #1 / Trip #2 / Trip #3

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Juan Diego Celemín Mojica

Passionate for all things Latin American, I’ve been closely following the energy and mobility transitions since they started to become present south of the equator.

Juan Diego Celemín Mojica has 39 posts and counting. See all posts by Juan Diego Celemín Mojica