What would you say to a Toyota Camry-sized plug-in hybrid car with 60 miles of electric-only battery travel that can be recharged from a wall outlet in just seven hours? Does $22,000 sound like too much for such a paragon?
Believe it or not, this car went on the market last week from BYD
(“Build Your Dreams”)—in China. The car, with the unwieldy name F3DM, beats Chevrolet’s Volt and Toyota’s plug-in version of the Prius to a consumer sale date by at least two years. In fact, BYD is hinting the car may be on the market right here in the U.S. in 2010, before the Volt (which is scheduled to cost twice as much).
I explored BYD’s potential—and billionaire Warren Buffett’s $231 million investment in the company—back in November. BYD is no bit player; it’s the world’s biggest rechargeable cell phone battery company. And plug-in hybrids use batteries not all that different from the cells in your consumer electronics. For the F3DM, a hybrid version of the existing F3 model, BYD says it has evolved unique ferrous battery technology with better energy storage than the nickel-metal-hydride packs in most current hybrids.
Buffett’s company, MidAmerican Energy
, was relatively tight-lipped about this new development, but through spokesperson Ann Thelen it issued this cautious statement: “MidAmerican is pleased to make an investment in BYD—a high-caliber organization, committed to making a dramatic environmental impact with their products.”
BYD wasn’t even in the car business until 2003, when it bought Tsinchuan Automobile Company Limited. According to Business Week, it may have some trouble finding customers for plug-in technology in China, because most car owners live in apartment buildings and park their vehicles in large parking lots well away from a wall plug. But that problem could be addressed with an infrastructure solution similar to Better Place, which is signing up countries, states and even cities like San Francisco for electric vehicle recharging networks (including plug-in spots in parking lots).
The car itself may be nondescript, but Business Week’s Asia correspondent got a ride in it and says it’s a stellar performer, achieving zero to 60 in 10.5 seconds. So even if you haven’t heard of BYD, make a place this upstart company in your automotive consciousness.