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Chinese electric car hits Bermuda’s roads

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Born entrepreneur: Richard Simon’s latest venture is the sale of a Chinese electric car, which he has branded the ECO EV1 (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Richard Simon has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. His late father was fond of telling the story of how Richard, age 5, went door-to-door selling Kleenex for five cents a tissue.Now 65, Mr Simon operates six businesses under the Incentis umbrella, the latest of which is ECO Electric Vehicles, importing electric cars from China, the world’s largest car market.“It’s just in my blood, I love business,” Mr Simon says. “I guess it’s like a drug to me. I have never taken a drug in my life, and I don’t drink, but my thing in business is customer service. Nothing makes me more upset than an unhappy client.”Mr Simon is importing a right-hand drive, five-door hatchback manufactured by the Dezhou Yijie Import and Export Company of Dezhou, a city of more than five million people in northwestern Shandong province.The list price for the locally branded ECO EV1 “A” Class vehicle is $20,000, excluding licensing and insurance. Mr Simon, who plans to offer a line of electric vehicles under the ECO brand, but from a variety of Chinese manufacturers, said he at first aspired to join another entrepreneur in a joint venture to import electric vehicles. When the other businessman was slow to act, he decided to go it alone.“The business resulted from me getting a bee in my bonnet,” Mr Simon says. “I just became passionate about electric cars. I am an entrepreneur, I am very impulsive, it’s ‘got to be today’, so I said ‘I’m going to do it myself’.”After registering on the Chinese website alibaba, which he describes as the “Chinese Amazon”, Mr Simon was contacted by an employee of the Yijie company, who provided her advice about various car brands.“I took the gamble, and brought two in,” Mr Simon says. Those vehicles arrived at the beginning of September, at which time Mr Simon posted on Maj’s List to say he was offering test drives in order to solicit people’s opinions about the vehicles.He said: “Eight people took test drives, and the car got very positive reviews, so I ordered five more.”Those vehicles arrived last Monday, with two already spoken for after Mr Simon offered test drives the previous weekend from the Fairmont Southampton hotel, the site of one of his other entrepreneurial ventures, the Just for Laughs comedy festival.Mr Simon said: “This is a real car, everyone is used to seeing the rental cars, the little ‘clown cars’ — and I say that with affection — but this car doesn’t get a second glance because it looks like a Chevrolet Spark, a regular car. I don’t think there has been a negative review yet on the car.”One of the sales closed after Mr Simon encouraged a test driver to take the car for a full day. He said: “Buyer number one is the most important buyer of all. If they are not happy, they will go onto Maj’s List, and your business will be finished. “But if they like it, and they tell people ‘he wouldn’t sell me a car, he told me to take it for 24 hours’, what is that worth?”Mr Simon has had one comic moment with his ECO EV1 family vehicle. Eager to test the range of the car, he drove and drove and drove before looking at the dashboard instrumentation, and seeing a coffee cup icon with steam rising out of it.“I thought ‘can an electric car overheat?’,” he chuckled. “I drove the car home and got in touch with Alexandra, my agent in China, who said ‘it means that it is time to take a break and have a cup of coffee’. I am glad I found out before a customer called to ask what the steaming coffee cup icon meant.”Mr Simon has plans to soon import an electric box van and electric pick-up truck for testing.He said: “I have no wish to expand the line of electric cars, I want to do a good job on this one, but Yijie tells me they are bringing out some new models. “When that happens, it will be time to take a trip to China. Buying once ‘sight unseen’ is one thing, I am an entrepreneur, I am used to taking risks, but now that I am solidly in business, it behoves me to go and see the supplier.”The ECO EV1 is capable of speeds up to 78km/h with a range of about 100 kilometres. The 10.8kw lithium battery can be charged at 110 volts or 220 volts.The front-wheel drive vehicles are equipped with air conditioning, remote keyless entry, MP5 player and radio, Bluetooth, reversing camera, and power windows, steering and brakes.All after-sale warranty service, maintenance and bodywork is to be handled by Bermuda Custom Mechanical, Mr Simon said, adding that he has a good selection of spare parts. • Test drives can be booked via the website at www.eco.bm. For further information, 232-8499 or sales@eco.bm

Current offering: the new ECO EV1 is available in raspberry (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Coffee time: the new ECO EV1 encouraged Richard Simon to take a coffee break with this dashboard graphic (Photograph supplied)