The first Chinese cars have quietly - very quietly - sneaked into the London show which opened earlier this week. Silently in fact - because they're electric cars.

Two of the pioneering green car distributors that took large display areas at Excel both had electric conversions of Chinese-built city cars on their stands. The idea is to offer something rather more substantial in terms of crash-worthiness than the often-criticised quadricycle designs that both companies also offer.

Quiet Car Company, based in Lymington, showed a battery-electric conversion of the Chinese Hafei Lobo five-door hatchback, an attractive small car designed by Italian styling house Pininfarina. Priced at GBP12,995 ($US26,000), the Quiet Car 2 has lithium batteries offering a range of around 65 miles (105km) on a full, five-hour charge. Performance is strictly 'urban' - top speed is only 50mph (80km/h). But running costs are low - QCC claims 100 miles (160km) of driving will add just GBP1 to your household electricity bill.

The conversion sees the car's engine replaced by a battery pack under the bonnet, with a rear-mounted electric motor driving the rear wheels. Much of the electric drivetrain equipment is fitted under the rear seats. QCC is taking orders for the car - but deliveries won't start until October or November.

Across in the other main hall at the Excel centre in London's Docklands, Nice Car Company - whose name doesn't seem so bad when you realise it stands for No Internal Combustion Engine - premiered its own Chinese-made five-door hatchback EV, the Ze-O.

Built in China but styled again in Italy - this time by Bertone - Ze-O is a version of the Changhe Ideal, a car introduced in China in 2006. It'll come to the UK before the end of the year, priced around GBP14,000 ($28,000). Initial versions will have traditional lead-acid batteries with a 60-mile (100km) range and a 55mph (90km/h) top speed, but Li-Ion versions with longer range will follow.

Nice, founded by former Lotus Engineering director Evert Geurtsen and Julian Wilford, is looking at radical retailing ideas: "We're looking to sell cars in the same way that Carphone Warehouse sells mobile phones," said a spokesman. Could these little Chinese cars in time become the high-fashion items like iPhones and Blackberrys? And might this be a better route to market for Chinese automakers, rather than the costly, slow and difficult task of growing their own Chinese brands? We shall see.