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This week’s entry in the Awesomely Weird Alibaba Electric Vehicle of the Week series isn’t a minivan, it’s a mini-van. And amazingly, the company claims it can carry up to nine passengers – though you might need to start measuring each other if you plan to actually cram that many people into this little electric van.

You see, this definitely isn’t a full-size van, even though you might mistake it for a typical contractor van at a passing glance.

OK, a very passing glance.

From a distance, though, you might be fooled by the scale. With eight windows and either two or three doors depending on the model, the little electric mini-van looks nearly job-ready.

It’s even outfitted with the typical accoutrements you might expect, like mirrors, wiper (just the one), roll-up windows, backup camera, and a full light package.

But when you get closer, you realize just how small this thing really is.

It’s only 3.6 meters (11’9″) long, putting it about one salad plate shorter than a Mini Electric.

Inside you’ll find a pair of captain’s chairs up front and then two long benches in back, where the company claims you can fit another seven passengers SWAT-team style.

As you can see from the photos, the two benches aren’t exactly roomy church pews. I assume they expect you to load the back up with kids, or perhaps seven adults that are extremely comfortable with each other.

One cool feature is that the benches fold up against the sidewalls.

That means you can load the back up with cargo – or perhaps go for the record and stuff a baker’s dozen passengers back there.

I tried to pitch this van to my publisher as the perfect second car for parents in charge of the neighborhood carpool. He wasn’t buying it though, sarcastically retorting that it “looks like it has 5-star crash test rating written all over it.”

Fair enough, but maybe that just makes everyone a safer driver when they know the stakes are higher.

In terms of performance, you’ll find fairly typical Chinese mini-car figures. The factory can spec the vehicle with up to a 5,000W (6.7 horsepower) electric motor.

With that much power, putting the pedal to the plastic gets you a blistering top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). I’m still waiting for an answer from the factory regarding whether that top speed is measured with a single driver or with eight screaming passengers on board.

And I know what you’re probably thinking: “Six horsepower doesn’t sound like very much for a van – especially one designed to carry around half a kindergarten class. This thing probably couldn’t even climb a steep, rusty ramp obstacle that looks like it was stolen from a shady bicycle park.”

That’s exactly what I was thinking too! At least until I saw the demonstration video below provided by the factory.

Jokes aside, that’s actually some impressive climbing for this little fellow!

How far can this electric van travel on a charge?

What good is a high-capacity electric mini-van if it doesn’t have decent range?

Our little van here is powered by a 60V and 120Ah bank of 12V lead acid batteries, adding up to 7.2 kWh of capacity. That’s actually pretty decent, and it’s the same amount of battery capacity you’ll find crammed into many of Zero’s electric motorcycles here in the US.

The factory claims that’s enough battery for 120 km (75 miles) of range.

Those lead acid batteries are old tech, though, so a new lithium battery upgrade would be a big win. You could toss in a half dozen 60V 20Ah lithium-ion batteries to save a ton of weight and improve your battery pack’s range and lifespan. Each brick seems to cost around $180 these days from the usual budget sources – not too shabby.

To really increase your range, though, you’ll want to check out their solar panel option. The factory claims that the giant panel can add 40 km (25 mi) of range per day with decent sun. That’s almost as much solar charger per day as Aptera’s crazy three-wheeled solar-powered vehicle.

This mini-van certainly costs a lot less than the Aptera, at just $4,000 for the base model or $4,800 for the slightly longer version.

As much as I love this funny little electric mini-van, I’m not sure what I’d do with it.

I only have five nieces and nephews – definitely not enough to test the full nine-passenger capacity of the van.

The only other use I can think of for me is that it would actually be great for utility jobs. Like for example, last year I bought a ton of candy for halloween but we didn’t get many trick-or-treaters due to COVID. I’ve been looking for a way to distribute it to the neighborhood kids, and a slow-moving cargo van like this would be perfect. I just need to think of some type of sign to put on it so everyone knows I’m giving out treats.

Nailed it.

Can you really buy stuff like this on Alibaba?

My regular readers know that this column is lighthearted and not meant to convince anyone to actually buy these things. I’m not saying anyone should pull out their credit card and start googling sea freight prices.

Of course some people actually have bought my Awesomely Weird Alibaba EV finds, and the results are usually pretty worth it. Hell, I’ve even accidentally convinced myself to buy some of these things.

But if anyone actually does want to go down that path, know that the advertised prices on Alibaba are just the beginning. You’ll usually get nickeled-and-dimed along the way, then there will be exorbitant shipping charges, and lastly you’ll still need to fork over for a customs broker and final delivery from your closest port to your home.

If you’re prepared for that, my best advice is to communicate slowly and carefully with the vendor to ensure you’re both on the same page. Then prepare for a long wait and a rollercoaster ride until your fancy new electric mini-van finally shows up.

While you wait, why don’t you check out some of my other fun Awesomely Weird EVs below. And if you should discover any of your own that you think I should check out, shoot me a message! You can find my contact info in my author bio below.


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Eurovision: Former Sex Pistols’ frontman John Lydon fails to win place representing Ireland

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Eurovision: Former Sex Pistols' frontman John Lydon fails to win place representing Ireland

Former Sex Pistols’ frontman John Lydon has failed in his bid to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest.

His band Public Image Ltd (PiL), the post-punk band formed by Lydon following the break-up of the Sex Pistols, finished fourth out of six acts in Ireland’s Eurosong competition to select its entry to this year’s contest.

They were beaten by rock band Wild Youth’s song We Are One who will compete at the contest in Liverpool in May.

The result was decided in three parts – a public vote, a national jury and an international jury.

PiL’s entry was an emotional ballad called Hawaii, which he described as a love letter to his wife Nora, who is living with Alzheimer’s disease.

In the song, Lydon, formerly known as Johnny Rotten, reflects on their happiest moments over their 40-year marriage including their time in Hawaii.

Before the contest, he said: “It means the world to me, this is our last few years of coherence together. And I miss her like mad.

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“I miss my missus, if you keep voting for me I’m going to miss her even more.”

Read more: When is the song contest, who’s hosting and when can I get tickets?

He said he was still “terrified of mugging it up, getting it wrong, letting people down – mostly letting Nora down”.

He spoke fondly of watching Eurovision as a child, saying: “This is something that I watched when I was young with my parents. I remember Johnny Logan, I remember Cliff Richard, I remember Sandy Shaw.

John Lydon

“It’s as good as any other way of listening to music, I don’t have any prejudices about things like that.”

He added that he chose Ireland “because I’m as much Irish as anybody else by blood”.

Read more: Eurovision announces viewers across the rest of the world can vote in next year’s contest

PiL was formed in the late 1970s and has scored five UK top 20 albums.

The band is also planning to release a new album in 2023 – their first since 2015.

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The UK is yet to announce details of potential entrants to Eurovision.

Liverpool is the host city for this year’s contest after organisers said it would be unsafe to host the competition in Ukraine after Kalush Orchestra’s 2022 win.

Since the UK’s Sam Ryder finished second last, the BBC stepped in to host the contest instead.

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Julian Sands: ‘Intermittent’ aerial searches to continue after bad weather hampered earlier efforts

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Julian Sands: 'Intermittent' aerial searches to continue after bad weather hampered earlier efforts

Aerial patrols are still being carried out “intermittently” in the search for missing British actor Julian Sands who went missing three weeks ago in California.

Normally, similar searches would be downgraded after 10 days, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said.

However, because bad weather has so far hampered efforts, it has been decided to extend the search period.

“Our Aviation Division continues to patrol that area, intermittently, in search of Mr Sands,” a spokesman said.

“Typically, we search for 10 days before downgrading to a passive search. In this case, with the weather precluding a continuous search, we extended those plans.

“While weather and mountain conditions continue to be an issue, we will resume ground searches once weather conditions permit and as the snow melts.”

Sands, 65, was reported missing on 13 January after he failed to return from a hike in the Mount Baldy region of the San Gabriel mountains.

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Numerous searches for the actor have since been undertaken on foot and by air by both local and state-level agencies.

Authorities have previously used a Recco device, which is able to detect electronics and credit cards, in the hope of establishing a more exact area in which to focus search efforts.

Last weekend, Sand’s hiking partner and friend Kevin Ryan said it was obvious “something has gone wrong” but that the actor’s advanced experience and skill would “hopefully” see his safe return.

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Fashion designer Paco Rabanne – known for his flamboyant Space Age designs – dies aged 88

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Fashion designer Paco Rabanne - known for his flamboyant Space Age designs - dies aged 88

Paco Rabanne, the Spanish-born designer, has died at the age of 88 in Portsall, Brittany.

The death of Francisco Rabaneda y Cuervo – Rabanne’s birth name – was confirmed by a spokesperson for Spanish group Puig, which controls the Paco Rabanne label he exited two decades ago.

He founded his namesake brand in1966, and while it is now best-known for is aftershaves and perfumes, it was his Space Age designs in the 1960s, that first brought him to the attention of many.

A statement shared on the fashion house’s official Instagram account said: “The House of Paco Rabanne wishes to honour our visionary designer and founder who passed away today at the age of 88.

“Among the most seminal fashion figures of the 20th century, his legacy will remain a constant source of inspiration.

“We are grateful to Monsieur Rabanne for establishing our avant-garde heritage and defining a future of limitless possibilities.”

Dubbed an “enfant terrible” in his early years, he helped upset the status quo of the Paris fashion scene, alongside fellow French designers Pierre Cardin and Andre Courreges.

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His flamboyant designs frequently used unconventional material such as metal, paper, and plastic, with his first collection aptly titled: “Manifesto: 12 unwearable dresses in contemporary materials”.

Presented by barefoot models on a catwalk in a luxury Paris hotel, the collection included a chain mail-inspired silver minidress made of aluminium plates, which was worn over a flesh-coloured bodysuit.

Baroness Helen Bachofen von Echt went on to wear the dress to a party in New York where she danced with Frank Sinatra, according to the V&A museum.

Pics: Shutterstock/David Thorpe/ANL
Image:
Pics: Shutterstock/David Thorpe/ANL

Embracing cutting edge materials and modern ways of working, he used plyers rather than a needle and thread to create the craft outfits, which made from strips of plastic linked with metal rings.

The collection – which simultaneously looked both futuristic and medieval – has gone on to inspire numerous contemporary designers.

He famously created the green costume worn by Jane Fonda in the 1968 cult-classic science-fiction film Barbarella, with numerous celebrities including Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Blackpink all going on to wear his clothes.

Commenting on the influential 1966 show, president of Puig’s beauty and fashion division Jose Manuel Albesa said: “Paco Rabanne made transgression magnetic. Who else could induce fashionable Parisian women (to) clamour for dresses made of plastic and metal.”

Rabanne teamed up with Spain’s Puig family in the late 1960s, launching his collection of perfumes and scents, which would go on to serve as a springboard for the company’s international expansion and vast commercial success.

His debut fragrance, Calandre, is still available today, and his Lady Million Eau de Parfum – presented in a distinctive bottle in the shape of a gold ingot – remains a best-seller.

Pic: AP
Image:
Pic: AP

Born in 1934 in the Basque Country, in the western Pyrenees, he escaped the Spanish Civil War by fleeing to France at the age of five alongside his mother, who was a head seamstress at Balenciaga.

He initially studied architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, before beginning his fashion career in the early 1960s.

He started his career sketching high end handbags and shoes, before branching into fashion and jewellery, selling his large plastic accessories and buttons to to couture houses.

Reflective of the mid-1960s cultural climate, his garments used post-war industrial materials – creating a trademark chunky and bold look. His architectural background also shone out in much of his work.

After a three-decade long career, Rabanne stepped back from the design house in 1999.

In 2010, the designer was made an Officier de la Legion d’Honneur in France, the country’s highest civilian award.

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