The race to provide the world with affordable plug-in cars has a wild card: China’s BYD, the car and battery company backed by investment guru Warren Buffet. A combination of powerful forces—an enormous burgeoning domestic market, battery expertise, and low cost production—gives credence to the company’s plans to sell millions of hybrid and electric cars within just a few years. That’s if BYD can overcome its challenges and technical hurdles. And that’s a big If.
The Wall Street Journal’s “China Realtime Report” blog is reporting that BYD’s e6 all-electric car is hardly ready for the US market—despite plans to bring the vehicle to the US next year. An unnamed “tech chief of a global automaker” recently drove the car, and said he was ‘truly astonished that they plan to sell such a half-baked car” in China later this year. He said the ride was “rough” and the handling was “squishy.” If the quality problems persist, BYD will have a hard time selling the e6 at the anticipated price of US $45,000.
The Wall Street Journal added, “BYD doesn’t have a good track record in keeping promises on product launches, and some industry observers suspect there may be technical glitches plaguing its green cars, which include a plug-in hybrid car called the F3DM, in addition to the e6.” Last December, BYD became the first automaker in the world to sell a plug-in hybrid car, the F3DM, but sold fewer than 100 through August, according to Gasgoo, a website reporting on the Chinese auto industry.
Yet, the promises keep coming.
100+ Miles on a 10-minute Charge
BBC reported last week that BYD’s says its electric car is capable of going 250 miles on a single one-hour rapid charge—or about half that range with a 10-minute charge. That would be a quantum leap over five-passenger electric cars expected in the coming years (and/or would require a rapid-charging infrastructure that could be many years away). The electric highway is littered with companies who failed by over-promising and under-delivering. BYD is running a similar risk, compounded by the fact that it’s a public company that could be accused of misleading investors.
BYD may currently be struggling to bring an affordable plug-in hybrid or electric car to the US in a timely manner, but industry observers warn not to write them off. They point to the rapid ascent of Japanese and Korean automakers that were disregarded by Detroit automakers, which scoffed at poor quality. Vehicles can improve fairly rapidly, but the key to delivering viable plug-in cars is the battery. An unidentified executive at a major European car manufacturer told the BBC that China intended to become the world leader in battery technology. “If that’s what China wants, it will happen,” he said.