BYD plans to plug in to America

  • 22-Feb-2009 09:58 EST
f6dm plug-in cutaway 2.jpg
BYD launched the F3DM plug-in hybrid sedan in China this past December and intends to enter the U.S. market in 2011 with the F6DM plug-in hybrid (cutaway shown) and the all-electric e6 crossover. (Ryan Gehm)

On cue, alternative-powered vehicles boasting plug-in hybrid, pure-electric, and hydrogen fuel-cell capability from the world’s largest and most well-known automakers took center stage at January’s North American International Auto Show (see event coverage in February and March issues of AEI).

But while those advanced-technology vehicles appeared in concept or prototype form, a Chinese company better known as a cell-phone battery maker showed off its recently launched production plug-in hybrid, the F3DM.

A mere five years after entering the automobile market, BYD Auto Co., a subsidiary of BYD Co. Ltd., began sales of the F3DM compact sedan this past December in Shenzhen, with other Chinese cities to follow. “It is the first dual-mode (DM) vehicle in mass production around the world,” said the company’s Chairman and President, Wang Chua-fu, in Detroit, adding that a midsize version, the F6DM, will hit the market this year.

Chua-fu attributes the rapid development and market launch of the cars in part to BYD’s expertise in rechargeable batteries and a workforce that includes more than 8000 dedicated R&D engineers in material sciences and other “fundamental research areas.”

The company intends to enter the U.S. market in 2011 with the F6DM and the all-electric e6, a midsize five-passenger crossover vehicle with a 250-mi (400-km) range on a single charge. As Chua-fu noted, the “core enabling technology” in all three vehicles is the BYD-developed ferrous-based battery. It can be quick-charged to 50% of capacity in just 10 min and will have a life cycle of more than 10 years, he claimed.

The battery technology is already in use in such applications as the One Laptop per Child program and in power tools, noted Henry Li, General Manager of BYD’s Auto Export Trade Division, but “I think we’re the first to use it in automotive.”

In China, the F3DM is priced at an equivalent of about $22,000, almost half of which is attributable to the entire battery system, said Li. To sell in the U.S., Li believes the price tag for the larger plug-in hybrid needs to be less than $30,000. “I think this car is more advanced, more economical, [and] more green” than the Toyota Prius, he added.

The vehicles are “almost ready” for the U.S. market in terms of federal crash regulations, said Li; they will require “some small modifications.”

BYD is currently talking to “a number of [U.S.] dealers to understand the possibilities of cooperation,” Li said, but nothing has been decided yet. Plans call for manufacturing facilities in the U.S. “when it is appropriate,” Chua-fu said.

Also speaking at the NAIAS press conference was BYD board member David Sokol, the Chairman of Des Moines, IA-based MidAmerican Energy Holdings, an energy-services subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, which last fall acquired a 10% stake in BYD Co. Ltd.

“We are working with BYD on developing charging technologies and infrastructure that would help promote plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles,” Sokol said. “For the electric-vehicle market to mature, the underlying charging infrastructure and technologies must mature at least simultaneously, if not first.”

MidAmerican Energy Holdings and BYD are also teaming to demonstrate storage of energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, that can be deployed into the grid when needed, he said.

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