Have you seen this little green electric vehicle in OKC? It's one of the first in America

·7 min read
John Karlin, of Oklahoma City, is pictured May 3 in his Hong Guang MINI EV Macaron, a mini car produced in China.
John Karlin, of Oklahoma City, is pictured May 3 in his Hong Guang MINI EV Macaron, a mini car produced in China.

While others in the metro area are lamenting fuel prices and the hassle of stopping at the gas station, John Karlin, a clinical registered nurse in Oklahoma City, is unplugging his car from an outlet at his house and happily zipping to work, the store and family activities, about 25 miles per hour and zero dollars per gallon.

Based on the shipping date, and some Reddit research, Karlin believes he is one of the first — if not the first — motorists in the United States to own a Wuling Hong Guang Mini EV Macaron, a wildly popular car in China but one not seen on a Plaza District street until October, when he started tooling around the area in the cute little four-seater that goes about 106 miles on a charge and has a starting price about $4,400.

“I've had people follow me in traffic and stop me and ask me questions about it,” Karlin said on a recent Tuesday afternoon. “I got followed by the police there for a while, but you know, I don't speed. I do my three seconds at the stop sign. I use my turn signal.”

Electric vehicle sales are surging across the nation, with USA Today recently reporting 657,000 were sold in 2021 compared to 115,000 in 2017.

While representing just under 4% of all new car sales, the number sold last year doubled the amount of EVs purchased in 2020.

But so far, very few have been Macarons.

In April 2021, state-backed SAIC-GM-Wuling, which is General Motors’ second joint venture in China, launched the Macaron, touted as a new customized version of the Asian country’s best-selling fully electric vehicle.

It rolled out in Pantone avocado green, lemon yellow and white peach pink colors.

The Macaron is equipped with a 27-horsepower electric motor and a 13.9 kWh battery.

The minicar measures 114.8 inches long, or about two feet shorter than a Fiat 500. The top speed is 62 mph.

“I don't know that it's actually gonna go that fast,” Karlin said. “I haven't taken it above maybe 36 or 37.”

Karlin bought the premium model. Including shipment to U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Freeport, Texas, he spent about $12,000 on the purchase.

He uses a cheat sheet to translate the Mandarin written on the interior knobs, had to order a few adapters for the made-in-China plug, and he’s still discovering little gems like the USB port on the back of the rearview mirror.

He had to order adapters for the plug.

“I plug it into an exterior outlet,” Karlin said. “I think that's what’s the hugest convenience of a design like that, because you don't have to have a charge station. You just literally plug it into any outlet.”

John Karlin's Hong Guang MINI EV Macaron, a mini car produced in China, is pictured May 3 in Oklahoma City.
John Karlin's Hong Guang MINI EV Macaron, a mini car produced in China, is pictured May 3 in Oklahoma City.

‘Range anxiety is a real deal’

In the years to come, Americans will see a variety of EVs on the road, beyond the smaller cars in fashion at the moment.

Los Angeles-based Canoo announced last year that in Pryor it would open a manufacturing facility in 2023 for its lifestyle, sport and working EVs.

In April, Ford Motor Co. held a launch for its 2022 F-150 Lightning electric pickup, which should be seen on the road in the next few weeks.

On May 5, Sweden-based Volta Trucks announced its intention to introduce a pilot fleet of its fully electric commercial trucks for “urban freight distribution” in North America, starting in Los Angeles next year.

“I believe our full-electric truck will be perfectly suited to the U.S. customer’s needs, and we look forward to engaging customers to gain feedback on our product and services, then testing and learning as we look to exceed their expectations,” Carl-Magnus Norden, founder of Volta Trucks, said in a news release.

But for all the hype surrounding electric vehicles, and the push to fill the roads with them, including President Joe Biden’s executive order last year setting a target for zero-emissions vehicles to account for half of all automobiles sold in the U.S. by 2030, some experts say Americans may never fully part with gasoline-powered cars.

“If you believe the media and all the numbers the manufacturers are coming out with, my prediction is they are going to overbuild EVs,” said Jerry Reynolds, nationally syndicated talk show host and president of the Texas-based Car Pro Radio Network.

Reynolds, whose more than four decades in the auto industry includes time as a successful Ford dealer, said motorists might remain wary of getting stuck in an emergency with a vehicle that isn’t fully charged, or one that can’t cover the necessary distance from one point to another.

For that reason, he is a proponent of hybrid vehicles, which can switch to gasoline.

“My prediction is in 10 years, many people will have electric vehicles, but also a gasoline car,” Reynolds said. “They don’t want to plan their family trip around charging stations. Range anxiety is a real deal ... until electric cars get into the 500-mile range or more, which will not happen sometime soon, then people are going to be hesitant to make the transition.”

Reynolds lauded electric vehicles for their ease of use and relatively low level of maintenance, but cautioned that battery issues at some point will prove costly.

Extreme temperatures and the use of air conditioning are just a couple of factors that can drain an electric vehicle’s battery life, he said.

“If you can get 200,000 miles out of the battery, you’re doing great and the replacement cost is $4,000 to $5,000, and if you think about it, that’s an engine rebuild,” he said. “But a lot of EVs have a shelf life of about 100,000 miles and then they crap out and you have to replace them. In battery replacement, the new trend is remanufactured batteries, which are a fraction of the cost, but they don’t last as long. But my experience from listeners is you can get 50,000 miles out of a remanufactured battery for 25% of a new one.”

Another issue with electric vehicles is that any ongoing maintenance likely will have to be conducted by a dealership technician because most neighborhood shops are not yet certified to work on the vehicles, Reynolds said.

At the same time, Reynolds said, vehicle technicians in general are aging out of the industry and dealerships are facing a major problem in the time and money it is taking to train EV mechanics.

“I don’t know that we’ll see the day anytime soon where we’ll see EV technicians everywhere,” Reynolds said. “It all comes down to one thing — how popular electric vehicles become.”

John Karlin drives his Hong Guang MINI EV Macaron, a mini car produced in China, on May 3 in Oklahoma City.
John Karlin drives his Hong Guang MINI EV Macaron, a mini car produced in China, on May 3 in Oklahoma City.

‘A street legal golf car’

Karlin easily drives his Macaron down the side streets and through the alleys of the Plaza District. While he parked between two walls of murals in one alley, a family of three stopped to gawk at his car.

Of most people’s reaction he said:

“I could see it on their face, looking at it like ‘That's just a toy,' or 'It's basically a street legal golf car.’”

He learned on Reddit there might be a motorist in Houston that also owns a Macaron.

A man posted about needing help with the vehicle. Karlin said he offered tips on voltage and outlet differences, but the man didn’t send him any photos of his car.

In Oklahoma City, Karlin said, his avocado green Marcaron has sparked some conversation about the need for a renewable energy and electric vehicle expo that shows what Oklahoma has to offer.

Gov. Kevin Stitt is pushing incentives for the EV industry in Oklahoma while touting the Sooner State’s renewable energy resources.

Karlin owns a pickup. But as Reynolds, the car expert, alluded to, Karlin bought the Macaron for his primary driving duties to work, the gym, the store and his kids’ school.

“This is not a road trip car,” he said. “But when I looked at my own driving, something like this would cover 95% of my drive ... when you look at your long-term expenses, it completely blows it out of the water. You can think of it as your in-town and city car.”

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: It's no Tesla: This OKC man looked to China for his electric car