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

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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