Plug-In Hybrid Goes On Sale, In China Only

A Chinese carmaker claims it’s pulled off a coup: This month, BYD Auto will sell the world’s first mass-produced plug-in hybrid. But it’s only offered in China, and will likely stay there until Chinese cars are ready for global primetime.

The BYD F3DM will land in showrooms at the end of the month. It’s expected to cost roughly 150,000 yuan ($22,000), and go as far as 70 miles (110 kilometers) on electricity when fully charged.

Parent company BYD Co.—it stands for “Build Your Dreams”—claims to supply 65 percent of the world’s nickel-cadmium batteries, and 30 percent of its lithium ion mobile phone batteries. In September, fabled investor Warren Buffett bought a 10 percent stake in BYD for $230 million.

Its auto arm has only been making cars for four years; it’ll sell about 120,000 this year. Its hybrid batteries use iron-phosphate lithium-ion chemistry, rather than the higher-energy cobalt versions that can instantly combust from internal short circuits, a hazard that has generated widely circulated pictures and videos of flaming laptops.

In January, BYD Auto showed the F6DM—a larger plug-in hybrid sedan—at the Detroit Auto Show, quoting a 60-mile electric range. It hopes to sell cars in Europe and the US by 2010, but no Chinese carmaker has a firm date for US sales.

Crash Test Disasters—on YouTube

The latest crop of Chinese cars is better built than early efforts, but their interior quality and materials are still only equal to Korean cars of the 1990s—hardly competitive. On top of that, they’ll have to meet US crash safety and emissions standards.

Industry analysts dismiss, or sneer at, the idea of US sales by 2010. Chinese makers will need years of experience elsewhere, said Aaron Bragman of Global Insight, before tackling the world’s most competitive auto market.

Even worse, all Chinese makers are fighting tough odds in the PR department. A reputation for unsafe cars has preceded them into Europe, courtesy of YouTube.

Three years ago, the German auto club Club ADAC tested a JiangLing Landwind SUV, the first Chinese-built car sold in that country. The outcome was “a catastrophic result,” it said. “In our 20-year history, no car has performed as badly.” The driver was likely to be killed in a 40-mph head-on crash.

Then in June 2007, the Russian magazine AvtoRevu crash-tested a Chery Amulet compact at 40 miles per hour. Again, the video it released showed the results in horrifying detail. As the magazine said, the front door sills “crumpled like newspaper” and the crash-test dummy became so embedded in the wreckage that it had to be removed in pieces.

But the Chinese makers are learning fast. Brilliance swiftly re-engineered its BS6 sedan, which did catastrophically badly in a mid-2007 ADAC test. Its performance improved enough to give it 3 stars on the EuroNCAP frontal and side impact tests performed later that year. Remarkably, the company issued a video showing the results of the old and the new tests.

While they may be quick studies, Chinese automakers still have far to go before they can sell competitive products in the US. If you want to drive a BYD plug-in, for now, you’ll have to travel.

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  • Bryce

    like anyone would want to enter this market right now…..only if they want to go out of business. A warning to them, wait another decade. That will save them face for when (not if) their cars kill people and keep them from going bankrupt.

  • mdensch

    Yeah, something else that will be a new experience for the Chinese: Litigation

  • Jake

    I remember seeing the 45 mph impact tests on this vehicle. The driver would sustain a fatal blow every time. In addition, the door would have to be pried off with a crowbar or jaws of life.

  • GreenMonster

    How come everyone’s so skeptical when perhaps the world’s greatest investor, who’s known for shunning risky biz like the internet, recently plunked down nearly a quarter of a billion for a 10% stake in BYD? The company’s no slouch, though you certainly make it sound that way, saying it “claims” to supply 65% of the nickel-hydride batteries, as if they’re pulling numbers out of a hat. Point is, they do have a big stake in the battery market. And that they “claimed” to pull of a coup–hey, obviously not here in the US, but hey, give them some credit for building a viable plug-in with a kick-ass electric-only range. We’ll probably have a more viable (and safer) one when the Volt comes out in ’10 or 11, but for now we should be happy that other countries are developing viable green tech, especially China whose smog makes it to our shores. No one has the lock on this lithium battery technology, which is why GM went to LG and Continental as well as its own labs to search for the best and safest tech. Speaking of safety, unless we want our own cars to fall apart like those Chinese models above, we should look far and wide for Lithium batteries that don’t explode, and that’ll probably mean continuing the search around the globe, including companies like BYD.

  • Shines

    I have to agree with GreenMonster on this one. How long do you think it willl take BYD to figure out the American market?
    I’d say less than 3 years. Even if they have to pour $10K worth of improvements into their $22000 car you’ll have a car that goes 60 miles on battery and costs under $33K. Sounds more like fierce competition to the Volt if they succeed in our market.
    That’s a pretty big if…

  • J-Bob

    Why would they even need to worry about competing in the American market in the first place?

    Between the Asian and Indian markets, these guys will effectively dominate before any of the ‘well known’ automakers even enter the fray there with a competitive plug in.

    Heck they already have a car with 50% better electric range than what Toyota or GM keep claiming their cars will have, and at a price nearly half that other competitors (who won’t show up to the game for another 2 years).

  • PatrickPunch

    A conclusion about the US big three:

    While they may be SLOW studies, US automakers still have far to go before they can sell competitive products in the US.

    A slightly different conclusion compared to the one above

  • Max Reid

    If they are really going to sell this, they have made a revolution.

    How come they can fit battery (70 mile, 110 km) range in the Sedan’s trunk. I thought plugin hybrids can only go with hatch/wagon/CUV’s.

    Anyway best wishes for the product and the company.

  • CurriedChicken

    If driving these in Asia is safer than riding a bike there, then they have made major advancements. Since when do cars even get to speeds of 40mph in Asian cities anyway? I also would bet that the number of serious head on crashes in Asia is considerably less than say North America. I would be happy to buy one of these to enjoy their lighter weight advantages, rather than to have to pay the extra costs of moving 40% more dead weight for all the “safety” features. To those people that complain about lack of safety… stop smoking, reduce your meat and sugar consumption, and get some exercise.

  • Patrick

    Hey guys, use your mind to think thing. What I want to tell you BYD is a very good company, more than 70% percent of the battery of cordless telephone in the US is from BYD.
    And the vedio is other company’s bad answer to consumer.But BYD can do it very.If you dont believed, you can visit the website which I attached , to see How BYD performed!

  • Patrick

    yes , byd can do it ,and can perform very beautiful. The F3DM will launch into the Chinese Market on 15th Dec.

    Yes, the U.S. has a long history to produce perfect vehicles, but you can’t get any Hybrid Plug-In Electric Vehicles in the US market, right?

  • Bryce

    ………..your sentence structure reminds me of the vietnamese ladies at my moms nail parlor.

  • Frenchsic

    Having worked with all the car co’s in Detroit & elsewhere for 28 yrs, for BYD to improve the car in 79 days is a miracle. Detroit can’t make decisions anywhere near that fast. Consider this: The Chinese rendition of the Olympics showed what a benevolent dictatorship can do when it wants to impress the world – they just blew me away with their technical prowess. With the Chinese graduating engineers in huge volumes compared to the rest of the world, watch out! With that many people working on different ideas and solutions, they’ll crack more problems faster than anyone else – it’s like ganging pcs to create a huge superfast computer – more brainpower than any other country on earth – think about that.

  • Shawn

    Were you getting your nails donw with your mom?

  • Evan

    Support! People should have a long sightseeing other than just seeing their own feet.

  • Evan

    BYD has already soldl its pure electric bus in China and some other countries.