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BYD Autos, Headed by China's Richest Man, Prepares U.S. Assault (With Buffett's Help)

I can't wait to see the BYD E6 when it's shown off at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month. That this is an important car may become clear only in retrospect. BYD is the Chinese battery company now 10 percent owned by Warren Buffett, who appears eager to purchase more. And why not? BYD is vertically integrated, well capitalized, and has the size and determination to succeed with a push into the American market--scheduled for 2011.

I wouldn't discount this company's prospects, and it's not surprising that Buffett and BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu see eye to eye. Chuanfu is the single richest person in China, With a net worth of more than $5 billion. That's impressive wealth building, because last year he didn't even make the Top 100. But the Buffett sale did wonders for BYD's stock price, and Chuanfu still gets to work early.

In this video (warning: much of it is in Chinese) Buffett takes a spin at the wheel of the E6 and opines that it is likely to be "enormously important for the world."

China's car market grew more than 30 percent for the first half of 2009, according to the Hurun Report. In September, 1.33 million cars were sold in China, up 78 percent from the same month in 2008. China's September sales topped those in th U.S., and the country is poised for 12 million sales this year (again, more than the U.S.)

The electric crossover E6 is just one of two cars BYD is bringing to Detroit. We saw the hybrid F3DM last year. It's nothing much to look at, and the few western testers have said it's a little crude. But it has a range of 60 miles on just its BYD lithium-iron phosphate batteries, and at $21,900 (on the Chinese market, where it's been for a year) it's definitely competitive on price.

They don't have subsidies for hybrids in China, and the F3DM hasn't sold well there, but if it's jazzed up some (as Coda is doing with its China-sourced EV) it could find low-end buyers here.

The crossover E6 is the money vehicle, though. It has an approximately 250-mile range on F3DM-type li-ion phosphate batteries (more than double the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus-based EV), and it's got a sleeker design than the F3DM. The E6 can reportedly fast-charge to 50 percent capacity (and 120 miles) in 10 minutes. The battery pack is said to have a 10-year life.

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