Bob and his car

Houston resident Bob Hansen stands next to one of two electric cars he purchased last July from a vendor on the Chinese website, Alibaba.com.

When Houston resident Bob Hansen bought a pair of electric cars from an online source last summer, his primary intention was to have something fun that he and his 7-year-old grandson to use together.

But despite following all procedures he was told were necessary to get the cars to his Ozark Street home, Hansen ran into some unusual circumstances that could cause him to lose possession of the small vehicles – and the large sum of money he spent to acquire them.

Basically, Hansen said, he has been informed that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) won’t let him keep the cars.

“It just doesn’t make any sense to me,” he said.

In July of 2020, Hansen ordered the two cars from the Chinese website, Alibaba (which is similar to Amazon), for a price of only $2,700 apiece. The 4-door, 4-passenger vehicles would seem to be a great bargain, as they have power locks and keyless entry, remote start, disc breaks, a heating system, power windows, a spare tire and a top speed of 45 miles-per-hour. All together, the cars cost Hansen close to $6,500, including shipping.

But in the aftermath of the order, Hansen had to jump through several hoops and dealt with issues including customs, power-of-attorney and sizable unexpected fees.

The units were first sent to New York (for reasons Hansen doesn’t understand) and then transferred to Hazelwood, near St. Louis (where they were originally supposed to go). Hansen said that due to the “red tape” he encountered, the cars sat in Hazelwood for close to a month, at a cost to him of $75 per day.

Electric car

For a price of only $2,700, the Chinese 4-door electric car has power windows, disc brakes, a heating system and keyless entry, and has a top speed of 45 miles per hour.

They were ultimately placed on a tow truck and brought to Houston (at a cost of $800), where they arrived encased in big wooden crates.

But Hansen was recently contacted by a broker in the deal, who said the EPA wanted him to return the cars. Hansen said he was told he would be charged $5,000 to have them shipped back to China. But to make matters more complicated, the manufacturer in China wouldn’t take them back outright, but rather would charge him a daily fee to store them in a warehouse.

In response, Hanson said, the EPA wanted the cars transferred back to Hazelwood where they would be destroyed, with an EPA representative as a witness.

“The whole thing is: What did I do wrong?” Hansen said. “And now, here I am. It’s a crazy thing.”

Electric car from seats

The front seat area of one the four-seater vehicles.

Hansen said his wife Marion is concerned about the amount of money that could be lost in the deal. He said he’s hoping the issue can be resolved in a way that allows him to keep the cars.

“I’m looking for a judge who will let me keep these here until I get it settled,” Hansen said. “Somebody has to be responsible for something here. I’m going to stir up some stuff if I can; that’s just the way I am.”

If he does get to keep the cars, Hansen said he’d likely sell one to recoup a significant portion of the hefty shipping costs.

It all started with what seemed like an innocent idea.

Electric car front

While not suitable for highways, the 4-seat electric car could effectively be used for in-town travel, similar to the side-by-sides and golf carts that many U.S. cities (like Houston, Mo.) now allow on roadways.

“These are nice little cars,” Hansen said. “I think it would be a great way to take my grandson to school or to take him shopping in town, and I think they would be great to have in a parade or other public event.”

Hansen said he contacted Springfield’s KY3-TV about the situation, but so far hasn’t been contacted by a reporter from the station. He wishes to warn other people about his dilemma in hopes that they don’t fall into a similar trap.

“If you’re going to deal with Alibaba, you need to be careful,” Hansen said, “because look what happened to me. I didn’t do anything wrong and I end up with this big problem.”

Green car

One of Bob Hansen’s electric cars is green.

Staff writer

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Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email him at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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