Is This the Decade of the Chinese Electric Car?

With 2009 now in the rear view mirror, the global auto industry turns its attention to this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which opens next week. After a free fall in sales in the past year-and-a-half, car companies will do their best to present a hopeful image of better times in the new decade. Two of the biggest trends in the 2010s will be the rise of China’s auto industry and the emergence of plug-in cars—so expect the electric cars and plug-in hybrids from China’s BYD Auto to garner a lot of attention.

BYD will return to Detroit this year to show its e6 all-electric car and the F3DM plug-in hybrid sedan. According to BYD, the e6 can accelerate from zero to 60 in 8 seconds, has a top speed of 100 mph, and can travel a surprising 250 miles on a single charge. The F3DM can go about 60 miles using only batteries. After that, a 1.0-liter gasoline engine is used to extend the vehicle’s range.

Ironically, BYD displayed the same two vehicles last year—spawning the same excitement about greener plug-in cars, as well as the same fears that inexpensive Chinese cars are ready to take the automotive world by storm. Those hopes and fears failed to materialize.

BYD did hit its 2009 total sales target of 400,000 units for its full line of vehicles, and has raised that goal from 700,000 to 800,000 units for 2010. But about two-thirds of 2009 sales were from its conventional F3 model. On Dec. 30, BYD Auto announced plans to release five new car models—all gas-powered—in 2010.

According to gasgoo, a Chinese auto industry website, BYD’s current hot-selling compact models are priced below 100,000 yuan (US $14,500.) That’s considerably cheaper than the midsize F3DM plug-in hybrid, which sells for about $22,000 in China—and the five-seat electric e6, which is expected to sell for about $40,000. The media continues to report that these vehicles will go on sale in the US in 2010; yet, they have not yet been certified for sale, and face questions on quality, crashworthiness, and equipment. These delays are unlikely to deter BYD from its goal of dominating the global hybrid market by 2025.

A Push from the Chinese Government

The F3DM was celebrated as the world’s first mass-produced plug-in hybrid, but the high price of the vehicle—which officially went on sale a year ago in China—has kept BYD from offering the plug-in hybrid to private buyers. The company has sold only a few hundred units to fleet customers. BYD executives say they are ready to “re-launch” the car in the coming weeks. But why would the company succeed this year when it failed last year?

Here’s why, maybe. Recognizing that these advanced electric-powered vehicles are too expensive for ordinary Chinese consumers, the Chinese government last month announced new incentives to help private consumers buy green cars. The incentives were announced on China’s main government website, but few details were offered. The purchase rebates are limited to buyers in five cities, but the locations have not yet been identified.

On the other hand, incentives for plug-in hybrids and electric cars are in place for US customers—with buyers of vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf set to receive a $7,500 tax credit. US consumers will have to wait until the last few days of 2010 for a chance to buy one of those cars. Meanwhile, the 2010 Detroit auto show will tease potential EV buyers with a 37,000-square-foot exhibit devoted to electric vehicles. The exhibit, called Electric Avenue, will be on the main floor of Detroit’s Cobo Center. The display will have about 20 vehicles from both conventional automakers and start-up companies.

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  • ex-EV1 driver

    I suppose Detroit will start belly-aching when the Chinese start eating their lunch (what little the Japanese and Koreans have left them) by selling cars that Detroit claims won’t work and took back from their American customers.
    They had a 20 year head start that they completely and willfully blew.
    hmm, I wonder if stupid acts by large companies (and their political supporters) that hurt our country could be considered ‘treason’.

  • Rom

    I unfortunately doubt they will take any blame. There were very happy to line their pockets with cash from the over sized guzzler run. Now if Ford would just make a reasonably priced hybrid that I can afford, I’d be all set. Compete already would ya guys!

    Regardless of price, I know I won’t be buying ANY CAR made in China for the simple fact that it was made in China. They already make 90% of everything else. Just how much more money do we want to throw at the Chinese work force?

  • Giant

    ROM has a really good point. Just walk through any department store and read the tags or box print. 99% chinese stuff.

  • Mr.Bear

    Not safety rated yet and the 5 cities it will be sold in not named yet? I think that puts 2010 out of the picture. Sorry, I don’t see the NTSB passing this thing on it’s first time through or see people lining up to be the first BYD dealer.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Mr. Bear,
    I agree that there are a lot more hoops for the Chinese to jump through to sell an automobile in the US but we still shouldn’t get complacent. There are over a billion slaves being put to the task of building things in China.

  • Shines

    I think we will be seeing plenty of conventional and hybrid/plug in hybrid cars from China. I am beginning to agree with folks saying EVs will be slow on the uptake because of high cost and short range. (I see the US developing more bio diesel and liquifying natural gas as alternative fuels for ICEs). The Volt may be the right alternative but at $40K to purchase sales may be limited.

  • huh?

    Our grandparents faced a similar challenge transitioning from horse ‘n buggy to ‘auto’ – ‘mobile’. The cost was very expensive, and the choices in the early 1900’s were many and confusing. They did it yesteryear, as we are doing so now.

  • Adrian

    This cannot happen. Chinese cars will have a hard time meeting safety regulations in the U.S. Besides they face huge giants here, from GM to Toyota. It is simply not possible to challenge them.


    BYD willl probably follow the same business model as Toyota…build the electric or plugin hybrid plant in the USA and employ Americans to build them. Does that make the car American – no. Will that be enough for Americans to buy them since they are made in the USA – yes !!!! Just make them cheap enough, hold together long enough to keep off the lemon lists, build them here and I wil buy one !!

  • Edward Eng

    Entering the States is just part of China’s plan to lead the global auto market. The market in China is huge. If American companies fall behind in the States and China, China will have the buying power to bully American companies around. China has a great chance of leading the electric car race.

    Edward Eng
    getchee Staff Writer

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  • chef

    GM, Ford & co were victims of their own success, as is often the case with large corporations. The bean counters took over and refused to advance the automobile, instead slipping fuel efficiency over the last decade or more. They have no one to blame but themselves. If it takes the Chinese to push EV autos into the mainstream, so be it. There’s been too much stonewalling over the past 30 years by US auto companies.

    Toyota is going the way of GM. Too big, too much success for it to want to do anything different. It had the chance to move forward on a plug-in Prius, but has consistently delayed it for one bogus reason after another. Toyota, like GM, was way ahead. Now it’s finding it’s falling behind to the likes of BYD.

  • pintuhs

    Low pollution, high mileage, money saver vehicle are always hot cake demand in public. Electric car is one of them. Current generation prefer electric cars because it is low cost, fuel saver and eco friendly green cars with affordable price and also they can enjoy luxurious ride in it. Electric cars are plug-in battery powered vehicle which is easy to use and there is no need to worry about fuel. Electric vehicles reduce pollution and save ozone layer, which is the big headache for current environment situation.

    For More information on electric cars log on to

  • jones22

    I think all of the new electric cars coming out are so good. I see nothing but a good future with electric cars. They are getting so well built. yaz side effects