World’s first mass-market plug-in hybrid is from … China, for $22,000?

BYD F3DM plug-in electric car photo

The AP reports today from Shanghai:

BYD presented the vehicle, known as the F3DM, in a ceremony in the southern city of Shenzhen…. The vehicle can run up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) on its electric engine, and when it runs low on power shifts to a back up gasoline engine. Its battery can fully charge in nine hours from a regular electrical outlet, or much faster at BYD’s own charging stations, the company said in a statement.

The car will sell for 149,800 yuan ($22,000), about the same as many Chinese-made mid-sized cars, it said.

One can certainly be skeptical about such an announcement from a company that “didn’t even make cars a few years ago,” as Treehugger notes. “Until recently, it was only a battery maker (the biggest in China).” One might also be skeptical about plug-ins from a company whose name stands for Build Your Dreams and which touts its all-electric F3e vehicle as “Inheriting the design concepts of being Faddy, Faithworthy and Futuramic.”

Then again, one should be skeptical about the overdesigned Chevy Volt from a company that has a long history of overpromising and under-delivering innovation, a company that has mismanaged itself to the brink of bankruptcy. And “MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., invested in a 9.9 percent stake” in BYD, something GM can only dream about.

Green Car Congress has more of the specs:

The dual-mode powertrains actually supports three modes of operation:

  • Full battery-powered EV mode;
  • Series-hybrid mode, in which an engine drives a generator as a range-extender; and
  • Parallel hybrid mode, in which the engine and motor both provide propulsive power.

BYD Auto, which is a subsidiary of China-based BYD Group, the leading provider of NiCd batteries (65% global market share) and lithium-ion cell phone batteries (30% global market share), uses lithium-ion iron phosphate cells from its parent company in its energy storage system.

BYD says the F3DM has a range of 100 km (62 miles) on battery power alone with a top speed of 160 kph (99 mph). The 330V, 40 Ah Li-ion pack has life of more than 2,000 cycles, according to BYD Auto. On a household 220V power supply, a full recharge takes 8 to 9 hours.

The DM powertrain incorporates BYD’s own 50 kW 3-cylinder, 1.0-liter BYD371QA aluminum engine, and has a combined maximum output of 125 kW.

Such are the fruits of a country with enough foresight to support a very strong domestic lithium-ion battery industry. What of the competition?

General Motors Corp.’s own plug-in electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, is due to roll out in late 2010. Toyota Motor Corp. also is pushing to get a plug-in electric vehicle to market in 2010, while Ford Motor Co., says it is five years away from producing them in significant numbers….

The company has said it plans to export the cars to the United States, but its vehicles must first meet stringent U.S. safety standards — a requirement that so far has deterred other, better-known local automakers.

Getting people to buy a Chinese car here will be no mean feat, but many other unlikely countries have succeeded at it — and BYD’s car will apparently cost half as much as the Volt. And, of course, BYD has a dedicated battery supplier it can count on, something GM does not.

More important may be how successful BYD will be in its home country with its plug in and all electric cars. Even running on mostly coal electricity in China, electric cars will have lower greenhouse gas emissions than most gasoline powered cars. And emissions will be far lower as China cleans up its electric grid.

For those out there who say China won’t reduce the CO2 intensity of its electricity for decades, I would just reply, in that case, the world has no chance of avoiding catastrophic global warming anyway, so it doesn’t matter what anyone drives.

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18 Responses to World’s first mass-market plug-in hybrid is from … China, for $22,000?

  1. charlie says:

    Umm, you were bashing tom Oliphant a little while ago,no?

    Now, I am not an expert on the F3DM, but it has exactly the problems that you identified in that post.

    Namely, it is ELECTRIC ONLY for limited speeds/range. After that you have to turn on the gas motor.

    And while they are claiming the gas motor will re-charge it, BYD’s business model is partly based on building thousands of power-charging stations, which makes me think that the gas motor isn’t doing much charging.

    Chinese drivers, if you’ve been there, are quite heavy on accelerating/braking, and having a giant golf cart may not be the best car out there for surviving Chinese roads….

  2. Ronald Brak says:

    Charlie, the F3DM apparently has a top speed of 160 km/hour. Due to the characteristics of electric motors this means it will out accelerate any normal internal combustion engine car with a similar top speed. Golf carts are slow because they are for made for playing golf, not because they have electric motors.

  3. Florifulgurator says:

    A key feature any serious e-car must have: Exchangeable battery.
    If you can’t swap the empty battery with a full one, the whole thing is crap tech (i.e. classic automoblie engineering).
    Reason 1: Quick recharging.
    Reason 2: You might have several spare batteries at home, perhaps even use them for e-trading on a smart grid as part of massively distributed electricity storage.

  4. Andy says:

    This reminds me of Toyota and Datsun in the mid-1970’s. Very cheaply built with poor performance but still they worked and would last if you kept them up. Once these companies got a toe hold, though; it wasn’t long before they were out doing the US in terms of quality.

  5. alex says:

    Remind me again. How do the Chinese generate electricity?

    [JR: Why would I remind you of something that the blog post you are commenting on already explains? Seriously, Alex, if you’re going to post comments here, please at least do the courtesy of reading the whole post!]

  6. Bob Wallace says:

    “A key feature any serious e-car must have: Exchangeable battery.”


    You’ve described a niche car, not what most people need. Most people would be very well served with a 40 mile electric-only vehicle that also had an ICE engine that gave them the “once a month trip to Grandma’s” extra range they sometimes need.

    On average they will be purchasing only 20% as much gas as they do with their current ICE machine.

    Something with a 60 mile electric only range is actually more than most need. Lots of people would need to plug in only every 2-3 days….

  7. charlie says:

    @ron; actually, no. That sort of performance from an electric motor is going to kill battery life. You need to accelerate slowly.

    And BYD is being a bit opaque about how the motor works in hybrid mode. Do the two motors work togther, is it gas-only at high speeds, etc.

    It is a 50kw electric engine, and despite the greater efficiency of electric motors on torque that is not going to be a speedster.

    My point is — great car — but exactly with the limitations that the Oliphant car was mocking. It reminds me more of the Olds Diesels which turned Americans off diesel for long time.

  8. Bob Wallace says:

    charlie – I call Bull Sh*t.

    Oliphant misrepresented the Volt. That reel of extension cord is crap and you well know it. His cartoon was a hatchet job.

    Furthermore you posted…

    “Chinese drivers, if you’ve been there, are quite heavy on accelerating/braking, and having a giant golf cart may not be the best car out there for surviving Chinese roads….”

    You imply that the BYD is slow to accelerate by calling it a “giant golf cart”.

    You got corrected. Please take it like a man and don’t go into weasel mode….

  9. Traciatim says:

    Wow, it’s amazing what you can do with and endless supply of expendable labour.

  10. Rick C says:


    What is it exactly that is ‘overdesigned’ about the car. It turns out my commuting distance is 43 miles round trip and I want as much of that to be on electric propulsion as possible.

    If your response is cost then I recall the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles goal was to build cars that got 80 mpg. The cost to build these cars was $80,000.00 to my recollection and that was because of the advanced materials used in the cars like aluminum frames and carbon fibre composite bodies along with their hybrid electric drive trains. Dont’ get me wrong I love those cars and would have been proud to drive them but if cost was is a factor for the Volt due to its overdesign then doesn’t it also apply to the cars produced from the PNGV program as well?

  11. alex says:


    I did read the whole post. I take issue with this bit, hence the comment:

    “Even running on mostly coal electricity in China, electric cars will have lower greenhouse gas emissions than most gasoline powered cars.”

    Due to the limitations of heat engines (basic thermodynamics, specifically the Carnot cycle) coal fired power stations are generally no more than 35% efficient, even good ones in Europe and the US. That reduces even further when you take into account transmission losses and (arguably) the carbon cost of building and maintaining the generation and distribution infrastructure. Bottom line – you are unlikely to get more than 25% of the original energy in the coal converted to usable engine power.

    Furthermore, coal is 1.5 times worse than liquid fuel on CO2 for the same energy. 25% x 2/3 = 16%

    [JR: And yet my comment is accurate based on the literature, which I have replicated in my own analysis. Throwing up a few handwaving numbers as you are doing is not substitute for the many life-cycle analyses that have been done.]

  12. alex says:

    To continue… according to this article:

    “Modern gasoline engines have an average efficiency of about 25 to 30% when used to power an automobile”

    That’s roughly double the effective efficiency for coal electricity.

    [JR: Alex — I’m not certain how long I can put up with you posting factually inaccurate statements. You are simply comparing apples and oranges here. The engine efficiency is one part of the entire fuel cycle from crude oil extraction to actually moving the tires. The tank to wheels efficiency for a typical US gasoline engine is maybe 17% — that is what Toyota uses in its analysis, and it is probably generous. The well to tank efficiency of oil production is about 80%. Electric drives are incredibly efficient, plus they allow regenerative braking. That’s why, when you throw all of the factors together, my original statement stands: “Even running on mostly coal electricity in China, electric cars will have lower greenhouse gas emissions than most gasoline powered cars.”]

  13. alex says:

    Joe, I resent your accusation that I post factually inaccurate statements or that my numbers are ‘handwaving’. The issue of heat engine eficiency is crucial and not widely understood. This page gives some typical coal fired power station efficiencies, which range around the 35% level:

    If you do a little research into the laws of thermodynamics and the Carnot cycle you will see why efficiencies are so low. Also, the issue of transmission losses is crucial, especially with AC distribution. HVDC would help as losses can be made much lower.

    I agree with your arguments about well-to-tank efficiency. This is generally discussed in terms of EROEI – energy returned on energy invested, which is falling to very low levels on some modern projects such as oil sands where it takes 3 barrels of oil to make 1, so to speak. By the same token you should not ignore coal-mine to electric motor effiency, taking into account all the losses of generation, distribution and battery storage.

    I enjoy reading your stuff (otherwise I wouldn’t stick around), but you have a tendency to go into “sell” mode, refusing to allow any sort of in-depth discussion which might undermine your position. You don’t know all the answers – no-one in the world has cracked the problem of CO2 yet, least of all your country, the USA.

    The subject of end-to-end energy efficiency is extremely complex. No energy is carbon free because it all relies on equipment which has to be manufactured, maintained and decommissioned. This generally takes large amounts of metal, concrete, transport, etc. all of which create CO2 and other forms of pollution. Have you done a piece on this? It has been done very well elsewhere on sites such as and which I read avidly.

    [JR: Everyone is selling something — their position. You certainly do. You wrote: “Modern gasoline engines have an average efficiency of about 25 to 30% when used to power an automobile. That’s roughly double the effective efficiency for coal electricity.” That statement is simply untrue. The “effective” efficiency of most coal plants in this country (i.e. including transmission) is 25% to 30%. If the use of the word “effective” means some sort of a well to wheels comparison with EVS, then you are comparing apples and oranges, which was my point.]

  14. Doug says:

    So it looks like they’re going with the lower-power, higher-capacity choice for the battery. Which would be why they have an undersized electric motor, as evidenced by the “feature” of having the gas and electric motor working in parallel.

    I’m not confident that this will do too well, mainly because, as a battery company, the complex mechanics for the parallel drivetrain would be way outside their expertise. Toyota had a huge amount of instituational knowledge, combined with excellent quality control, to make the Prius so reliable. So unless these guys are buying that drivetrain directly from Toyota, it’s going to be rife with issues for some time.

    Instead of that, they should have gone w/ much lower-capacity battery (20mi? 10mi?) that has a higher power output (possibly with some ultracaps to aid in burst accelerations), and used the weight savings to employ a bigger electric motor, in a purely serial-hybrid setup.

    A smaller electric-only range is still very useful, as it still boosts the overall mpg significantly, and it also gets real cars out into the marketplace faster and cheaper, thereby providing the real-world feedback data that is going to be absolutely vital to knowing how to improve the battery capacities and durability in the right way.

  15. alex says:


    We are on the same side really. I just worry that people will see PHEV’s or all-electric cars as some sort of fantastically green climate change solution, when (by themselves) they are not at all. In a globall free market economy in which CO2 is never really priced out of the system I can easily see the world effortlessly transitioning from liquid fuel powered vehicles to coal-fired electricity cars as a market solution to peak oil. We can also expect to see a move to CTL and GTL. All these solutions are at least as bad for CO2 emissions as just burning straight gas or diesel.

    The key thing is how we wean the world off fossil fuel, not finding ever more imaginative ways to continue using it. And that takes you straight back to global climate change politics, not a hybrid vehicle factory in China.

  16. Dave says:

    First I’d like to say I do not believe all the crap about Global Warming and CO2, that is only a method to get money out of western countries and put it elsewhere. I must say though that I do believe we should be looking at electric cars. I for one would love one a at a desent cost just because they would be cheaper to run and maintain.
    Mankind does not change energy suppies because he is nice but because it is cheaper. Look at the past and you will see the future.
    I like the idea of having a car I could drive 40 or 50 miles in. Leave it for a few hours or most of the day charging with a plugin or its own generator then drive another 40 or 50 miles home.


  17. msn nickleri says:

    The key thing is how we wean the world off fossil fuel, not finding ever more imaginative ways to continue using it. And that takes you straight back to global climate change politics, not a hybrid vehicle factory in China

  18. Leif says:

    The real savings in carbon footprint come when we have sustainable energy charging electric vehicles and more. Electric cars will take years to become refined and the market to adapt. Likewise sustainable energy on a large scale is not an overnight proposition. Any start is a good start when the alternatives are pondered.