L.A. Housing Inspector Logs First 300 Miles in China's BYD Plug-in Hybrid

By · January 24, 2011

Luisito Bacierto, an L.A.-based Section 8 housing inspector, with the BYD F3DM plug-in hybrid

Luisito Bacierto, an L.A.-based Section 8 housing inspector, with the BYD F3DM plug-in hybrid.

The threat of a Chinese takeover of the U.S. auto market from—especially in the area of ultra-green plug-in cars—has been discussed for years. BYD, the fast-growing Chinese automaker backed by investment guru Warren Buffet, is the top contender to first break into the market. The big question has been when its first vehicles will start showing up on U.S. roads, and who will be the first U.S. drivers to give a BYD electric car a try.

We now have an answer: Luisito Bacierto, a Section 8 housing inspector, who has been working for the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) for 11 years. BYD delivered 10 of its F3DM plug-in hybrid on Dec. 14, as part of a pilot test program—but so far only Bacierto has logged any significant time behind the wheel. “Not everything [in the test program] has been rolled out,” said Annie Kim, HACLA’s public information officer.

Real-World Range: 50 Miles

Since mid-December, Bacierto has driven 305 miles. His daily route can vary from a few miles, to a round trip journey of more than 50 miles. Almost all of Bacierto’s miles have been in the nearly silent pure electric mode—but on at least a couple of occasions, the F3DM automatically switched from electricity to hybrid mode.

“If the battery is less than 25 percent [state of charge], the vehicle automatically goes from electric to H.E.V., which is the gasoline,” Bacierto said in an exclusive interview with PluginCars.com. “In that situation, it’s a different sound.” He described it as louder, more like a normal car. “It doesn’t bother me.” Bacierto added that the acceleration picks up in H.E.V. mode. “If you are going 55 miles per hour, you see 65 to 75 miles per hour [after it switches].” He said the switchover happened after 50 miles of driving on a full charge. Bacierto said the dashboard shows battery state of charge on a percentage basis—one of the metrics he is logging, in addition to miles driven, charge times, and amount of gasoline consumed.

F3DM fleet at HACLA

Part of the fleet of BYD F3DM plug-in hybrids at the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles

According to BYD, the F3DM has 60 miles of all-electric range. Unlike other plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevy Volt, the F3DM is a “dual mode” that allows a driver to manually switch the vehicle between EV and hybrid mode. Bacierto had not tried that manual switch. BYD sees the plug-in hybrid feature as a temporary strategy for its vehicles until drivers become comfortable with an electric vehicle’s driving range. (The company estimates the driving range of its 100-percent electric vehicle, the BYD e6, at 200 miles.)

A couple of weeks ago, on the eve of the 2011 Detroit auto show, Michael Austin, the Chicago-based BYD vice president of marketing and public relations duties, told me that the F3DM dual-model EV/PHEV will cost $28,800. He said that BYD will sell “tens of thousands” of the F3DM and e6 electric models in the United States by 2012.

No Special Charging Equipment

Bacierto described the overall driving experience as “smooth” and “not too fast, not too slow,” and compared the styling of the BYD F3DM to a 1980s Toyota Corolla. He said the charging process was easy. HACLA is not installing special charging equipment, but instead is using standard 220-volt outlets, identical to ones used for a residential clothes dryer, for example. “Part of the appeal of this EV is the fact that we don’t need any special EV charging pedestals or equipment to charge. It’s all standard,” said Rudolf Montiel, HACLA’s president and CEO. “We are ecstatic to partner with BYD to test this fantastic EV fleet technology.”

Trips to Pump: From Twice a Month, to Every Two Months

The team of 40 Section 8 inspectors is responsible for visiting the 45,500 low-income housing units in Los Angeles to make sure the facilities are safe, decent and sanitary. The team of inspectors will eventually use all 10 of the BYD F3DMs on loan with HACLA, instead of the Toyota Priuses that currently make up 100 percent of the fleet. “I don’t know how quickly that transition will be made,” Kim said.

“With the Prius, I was filling up every two weeks,” Bacierto said. “The BYD car had a full tank in the middle of December. Yesterday, it’s a half tank. I haven’t put in gas yet.”

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