Chinese Carmaker BYD to Bring EVs to U.S. Next Year

Last Updated Aug 27, 2009 9:46 AM EDT

In a sign of a heightened international competition, the leading Chinese battery maker and (increasingly) carmaker BYD ("Build Your Dreams") is intending to bring its E6 electric car to the U.S. a year sooner than previously announced. That will make it available here next year, just in time to compete with the Nissan Leaf (also a battery car) and Chevrolet Volt (a "range extender" whose small gas engine acts as a generator to supply the electric motor).

Nearly 10 percent of BYD was purchased for $230 million last year by savvy investor Warren Buffett, who acted on the advice of a friend. Buffett's investment has echoes in Daimler's purchase of 10 percent of Tesla--in both cases, the investors were picking apparent winners in the EV space.

The E6, a five-seat crossover, is equipped with BYD's own lithium-ion-phosphate batteries, which are also in the company's plug-in hybrid--the first one on the market (in China only, where it is very attractively priced at around $20,000). Although it has initially been a slow seller in China, a low price may help it take off on the international market. BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu told the Wall Street Journal that BYD will finance its U.S. launch with a planned sale of up to 100 million new shares in the Chinese company. He also said the company will build a second production line for lithium-ion batteries near its headquarters in Shenzhen.

The E6 will sell for approximately $40,000 in the U.S. The car can reach 62 mph in 10 seconds and tops off at 99 mph. It has an impressive range of 186 miles (compared to just 100 miles for the Nissan Leaf). Battery car range is a key factor. Tesla says its Model S will, within a year of launch, have a 300-mile option, though that pack would be 85- 95-kilowatt hours. Such a pack would be very heavy, bulky and expensive right now, but Tesla--which says batteries improve eight percent per year--has three years to make that pack a reality.

Photo: Flickr/Grist.org
  • jim motavalli

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