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Auto Show:  2011 Naias

BYD - Hybrids and Electric Cars from China - 2011 Detroit Auto Show

author photo by Autotrader January 2011
January 14, 2011

Those three little words on many of our household appliances, computers and cell phones may soon be seen on roads across the United States – Made in China. BYD is based in the city of Shenzen, a busy Chinese port. The company makes cars, buses, batteries and solar panels; Warren Buffett bought a 10-percent stake in 2008. At the 2011 Detroit auto show, BYD’s chairman, Wang Chuanfu (one of the richest men in China, incidentally), announced plans to sell its products on this side of the Pacific.

The timing is set for some point in 2012, but BYD has some cars in California already. The Los Angeles Housing Authority is using a fleet of F3DM compact sedans. Its CEO, Rudolf Monteil, said the department has saved 73 percent in fuel costs. That’s because the F3DM is a hybrid vehicle with a range of 38 miles in electric-only operation and 313 miles with the 1.0-liter engine kicking in (the DM in the name stands for “dual mode”).

The thing that makes a BYD vehicle a different proposition to other hybrids and electric cars is its battery technology. Where almost everyone else is using lithium-ion or nickel metal hydride, BYD is using iron phosphate batteries – no heavy metals and cheaper to make. This is BYD’s intention, to offer environmentally friendly transportation that most people will find affordable.

Each F3DM doing duty in Los Angeles has a solar panel on its roof to help recharge the battery pack. The bigger scheme is to capture the sun’s energy – with BYD-built solar cells, of course – and store it in dedicated BYD iron phosphate battery stacks, then recharge the cars at night in a process completely free of emissions.

On its show stand, BYD had the uninspired-looking F3DM and also a crossover SUV (whose styling seems more than a little influenced by the Lexus RX) that uses hybrid tech. But the first model slated for the States is the E6, an all-electric five-seater crossover. BYD claims a range of 186.4 miles in urban driving from its 75-kilowatt motor. There may also be a Sport version with a 160-kilowatt motor. Each version’s batteries can be replenished in 40 minutes with a fast charger. No prices have been set, but $25,000 is a rough ballpark figure.

BYD also makes LED light bulbs with a claimed 20-year life, which it was giving out at the Detroit show. When the bulb in the Auto Trader bathroom goes, we’ll start a really long-term test on this one.

author photoCOLIN RYAN has driven hundreds of cars thousands of miles while writing for BBC Top Gear magazine, Popular Mechanics, the Los Angeles Times, European Car, Import Tuner and many other publications, websites, TV shows, etc.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
BYD - Hybrids and Electric Cars from China - 2011 Detroit Auto Show - Autotrader