Exclusive: BYD Announces Breakthrough U.S. Pricing for Chinese Long-Range Electric Cars

By · January 09, 2011


BYD's F3DM dual-mode car allows drivers to manually switch from pure EV to plug-in hybrid opertion.

BYD’s all-electric e6 sedan with a huge 60 kWh battery pack will sell in the United States for $35,000 before incentives—while the F3DM dual-model EV/PHEV will cost $28,800. On the eve of the 2011 Detroit auto show, Michael Austin, the Chicago-based BYD vice president of marketing and public relations duties, confirmed these prices and told me that BYD will sell “tens of thousands” of both models in the United States by 2012.

BYD, the Chinese company promising to revolutionize the global auto market, is back at the Detroit auto show for the fourth year in a row. Never shy about making big promises, the company will unveil a new concept electric sedan and SUV in Detroit. Austin was eager to talk about these future models, and BYD’s grand vision for selling electric cars along with solar panels, LED lighting and stationary battery storage for the home. But I steered the conversation back to the question that plug-in car fans most want to know: When will the cars displayed for years actually go on sale?

On Schedule for 2012

Austin told me that by 2012, BYD will have at least five showrooms open in the U.S., and as many as 20. He pointed to the 10 units of the F3DM that went into fleet testing in December at the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles as proof that the company will deliver on its promises. “All necessary crash testing will be completed in 2011,” Austin said. He said the “biggest trouble” facing BYD had to do with the Environmental Protection Agency not being able to determine the best way to measure range and emissions in the F3DM.

The BYD F3DM fleet at the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles

BYD's Micheal Austin with Rudolf C. Montiel and David Esparza of the Housing Authority, in front of its fleet of F3DMs.

The F3DM is not a plug-in series hybrid or extended-range electric car, but a car with two independent systems—one electric and the other a blended gas-electric hybrid. The driver can manually switch between the two systems. According to Austin, the car can travel up to 60 miles in its pure electric mode, using energy stored in a 16 kWh battery pack. With the push of a button, the driver can switch to a hybrid system that operates with battery-assisted acceleration at low speeds, and with the 1.0-liter engine clutched to drive the wheels at high RPMs. The 9-gallon tank will provide 300 miles of driving range, delivering more than 30 miles to the gallon. Every model has a large solar panel on the roof capable of charging the battery pack.

Austin expressed strong confidence that the F3DM is on schedule for 2012. “I doubt it will get delayed, but the e6 might,” Austin said. He said the e6 will begin testing in China in May. “U.S. models will always roll out one year after Chinese markets are launched.”

Austin emphasized that testing in the U.S. is also a critical step for BYD. After the all-electric e6 was shown last year, BYD learned that American consumers were disappointed with lack of legroom in the back seat—due to how the batteries were packaged. Since that time, Austin said, the entire layout was redesigned to remove the four inches of raised floor in the backseat compartment. “It only takes six months for complete retooling in China,” Austin said.

He also said that the Chinese version of the e6 uses a 75 kW electric motor, but the U.S. consumers want more acceleration and therefore the U.S. version of the e6 will have 160 kW motor. The model with the more powerful motor—capable of delivering zero-to-60 times in less than 8 seconds—will be called the e6 S (for Sport).

BYD e6 electric car

BYD e6 electric car, potentially with the largest battery pack of any EV on the market.

Big Ideas, And Reality

Selling an electric car with a 60 kWh battery pack capable of at least 200 mile of range—and probably more like 250 miles—for $35,000 (before incentives) will be a feat. “That’s a breakthrough,” Austin said.

While the BYD vehicles will use next-generation technology, the fit and finish of the Chinese-made vehicles will be a throwback. “I’m not going to yank your chain. You’re not buying a Mercedes-Benz when you buy a BYD,” Austin said, referring to the challenge the company faces in catching up with its competitors on the quality of the interiors.

BYD shows no fear about announcing electric car production dates and targets, driving range numbers, and prices that seem too good to be true. I repeatedly asked Austin to confirm that BYD will have indeed have tens of thousands of plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars in U.S. showrooms—on sale for less than any of its competitors—before the end of next year. “That’s the idea,” Austin replied.

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