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[Tested]: EVCARD, The Electric Car Share Service

Driving the shared poor man's Tesla. Can the experience live up to the concept?
2017-02-24 16:18:22
"Tested" is our column where we check out goods and services that might be helpful. We see if they're worth your time and money so you don't have to.

Yeah yeah, Mobike is nice and all, but what if you want to roll with some friends? What if you want to pick up a date in an environmentally-friendly ultra compact ride? What if you want your mom to criticize your steering?

EVCARD. That's how.

EVCARD is Shanghai's first electric car share service. It began in 2013 and currently has over 50 designated stations around the city where you can pick up and park EV cars. It's a lot cheaper than Didi/Uber for long distances and you get to do the driving yourself.

Signing Up

Signing up is a swift and easy process on the app. But if you don't read Chinese, you might want to ask a Chinese friend to help you through it. There's no English version available yet.

You'll need to input your name, phone number, address, driver's license number, and passport info. Keep your driver's license and passport handy as one of the registration steps requires you to take photos of them.

Finally, pay a 1000rmb deposit, which you can get back if you decide to cancel your account. It takes one to two business days for their systems to verify your account, and up to five days (as noted by one of our readers) for your EVCARD (the actual card) to arrive. Once you've got that, you can start your electric car odyssey.

The Experience

Things did not start off well.

The stations are plentiful, but the cars near the city center (and our office) were limited. You can check a station's available cars on the app, as well as their remaining charge. Once you select a car, you can put a 15 minute RSVP on the car, but the stations are far enough apart that it might take you a bit longer to get there.

The SmartShanghai photographer, one of our directors (licensed driver), and I trekked towards the nearest station. It was a 20-minute walk away from our office, but halfway there, when we went to RSVP, the two cars at that station had already been taken.

The next closest station was 3.5km away, so we took a taxi. Not optimal.

You do get up to 5 cancelled RSVPs a day, so you can reserve up to an hour and 15 minutes if you keep hitting the button the second your previous RSVP runs out.

The next problem we ran into was finding the station. There are no signs and the address description in the app was vague, giving only a numbered address. Eventually, we found it in the basement parking lot of a mall after using up two RSVPs. Total time expenditure to get an EV car: 57 minutes.

Pricing

There are two versions of the basic car: a four-door Chery EQ and a two-door Roewe e50 (both Chinese-made). Pricing is the same for these: 15rmb for 30 minutes and 0.5rmb for each minute after that. And there's a max price of 180rmb for 24 hours. Then there's a rarer, more expensive BMW model that is 30rmb for half an hour and 1rmb for each minute after that. They also do day rentals for Teslas and other high-end electric cars for up to 1200rmb a day, but that's a separate service.


You can can unlock the car with your card or the app (although sometimes the signal is poor when using the app). The car's interior is not the cleanest. We found used tissues in the door compartment, sand and peanuts between seats. And the radio didn't work.

The car's key appeared to be glued into the keyhole. (Big trouble if you accidentally leave this thing unlocked.) Just turn the key and start driving. And bam! The acceleration hits you fast. Unlike a gasoline car, you feel the torque of the electric engine the second your foot hits the pedal. It's not a Tesla, max speed is only around 130km/h, but it is unexpectedly agile.

The electric engine also means that the car is very quiet. All you hear is a distant electronic-sounding screech when you accelerate and a break alarm that goes off on an external speaker as you come to a stop. That last part is for pedestrians. It gets pretty annoying.

The car's dashboard tells how much distance in the battery you have left. Sometimes the car you get only has a little charge left.

Another potential problem is pulling into a station that is filled. You can see if there are open spaces on the app, but that situation might change by the time you get there. Then you'll have to drive to another one for a parking spot.

Once you do park, you'll just need to lock the car and plug in the charger. The car's GPS will let your app know if you've parked in a correct location. Once that's approved, you can pay for your ride with Alipay, WeChat, or a Union Pay bank card. This step is pretty painless.

Note: There are three types of stations. The green ones are for normal users, and you can take a car from one green station and park it at another. Yellow stations are for companies accounts that use the service. And there are gray stations, whose cars must be returned to their original location.

Should You Use EVCARD?

EVCARD won't revolutionize transportation in the city and they know it too. The service was set up by the Shanghai International Automobile City — a governmental project part of Shanghai's 10th Five Year Plan — primarily as a way to introduce electric cars to the public.

However, if you have a license, then sure, sign up for EVCARD. It's good for a day trip with the family or errands, like running to the grocery store, if you have a station near your house. But this won't be your go-to form of transportation, primarily because station locations aren't always conveniently located next to your home or workplace. But maybe Mobike can solve that leg of the trip.

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