In 2002, Li Gaung Ming founded the first automobile design firm in Beijing, China. America saw the fruits of his team's initial efforts in a trio of bright yellow low-speed electric cars it debuted at the 2008 Detroit auto show. While amusing in a cartoonish sort of way, they certainly weren't going to be taken seriously by American car buyers.

That image changed last week with the unveiling of the company's Tang Hua XY80 Chika, a sapphire blue two seat neighborhood-class electric car that might just carve a niche for itself not only in Asia but also Europe, and even possibly North America as more communities grant road-rights to low-speed electric cars.

The 72-volt runabout has a top speed of 31 mph and a stated range of 95 miles, presumably in the lithium-ion version, which the company web site advertises at $10,650US FOB China. The lead-acid version is $7,800.

Clearly less eccentric than its three predecessors whose names range from "Book of Songs" to "Detroit Fish", the Chika nonetheless sports the silhouette of its founder, who is clearly a dreamer and visionary more in the mold of a John Lennon than your Bob Lutz-type auto executive. Take time to read his poetic manifesto entitled Proposal in Detroit and you can almost hear the plaintive strains of "Imagine."