World's First Plug-In Electric Car Goes On Sale Next Month -- in China

2008 byd F3DM photo

And It's Coming This Way
As the ghost of GM's assassinated electric car haunts a fearful Detroit, another boogeyman is waiting in the wings: the world's first mass-produced plug-in hybrid electric car, being readied for its December release -- in China.

BYD, a company that first made its reputation as the world's largest maker of cell phone batteries, has announced it will release the F3DM hybrid sedan on December 15. And BYD says it plans to release a version of the car in the US and Europe in 2010 or 2011, just when GM plans to begin selling its own plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt.

As Mike has reported previously, the F3DM -- which can be charged using a standard electrical outlet -- can switch between a fully electric mode and a hybrid one that uses both electricity and gasoline. BYD says the car can travel as far as 60 miles (100 km) after one charge in full-electric mode, or longer when also using its small gas tank. The all-electric range of the Chevrolet Volt is only 40 miles.The F3DM, which has been in research and development for five years, is currently awaiting government approval, reports Caijing magazine. It is expected to be launched in 14 Chinese cities including Guangzhou and Shenzhen at a cost of about RMB 150,000, or around $22,000.

GM has said the Volt, which will be America's first plug-in hybrid, will be released in 2010 or possibly 2011 at a cost of $35,000.

While Chinese automakers have yet to enter the US market, GM should be driving scared: BYD is expecting to enter the United States and European markets in 2010 with the larger E6 sedan. Already Portland, Oregon, is bending over backwards to convince BYD to set up its US operations in the city.

In August, BYD announced it would be making its first foray abroad in Israel, "a country that strongly supports environmental technologies," said a BYD executive.

byd f6 hybrid plug-in chinese photo

The Larger F6, Slated for Overseas Release

The Numbers

According to BYD, its proprietary lithium-iron-phosphate batteries (LiFePO4), can last for 600,000 km before they need to be changed, giving the car around a 10 year life span. The car uses 12 kwh per 100 km and can travel over 300km per charge. BYD also claim, reports China Car Times, that their car can be recharged by 50% within 10 minutes; by using a home electrical outlet, the BYD F3DM can be fully recharged within 7 hours.

And how does it perform? The company reports that its car gets a top speed of over 93 miles per hour, and takes less than 13.5 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph.

Buffeted By Warren

We don't know much about BYD's technology, but one American probably does: Warren Buffet. In September the world's richest man invested $230 million in the automaker's parent company, BYD Co. (That day, BYD saw its shares jump more than 40 percent.)

BYD Auto, now China's second-largest independent automaker, will use the investment to raise standards in order to gain access to foreign markets and continue advancing its battery technology. In February, the company switched from using Mitsubishi engines to producing its own engines, and it recently built a 120,000 square meter R&D center.

For its part, MidAmerican Holdings, a division of Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, gets to further its vision of developing storage devices for solar and wind power -- one of the main limitations of those renewable energies -- while advancing electric cars. Said David Sokol, the chairman of MidAmerican, at a press conference:

"This is a technology that can really be a game changer if we're serious about reducing" emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas associated with man-made global warming...

Go to page 2: The Road Blocks and Autobahns Ahead

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