China's BYD Co., maker of the F3DM plug-in hybrid sedan that went on sale to government agencies and corporations in December, will begin selling the car to individual consumers in China in September. The West, however, will have to wait, as F3DMs bound for Europe won't ship until next year, and the U.S. likely won't see the energy efficient compacts until 2011.
A decade ago China's largest rechargeable battery maker wasn't even in the car business. But BYD made a splash in the green auto sector when, at the height of American carmakers' struggles to bring a viable electric vehicle to market, the company coolly released the F3DM at a price just under $22,000; that is, for far less than American carmakers dreamed of pricing their next-gen autos.
The F3DM's lithium iron phosphate batteries are more stable than the lithium ion batteries chosen for cars like the Chevy Volt, so BYD had fewer safety issues inherent in the development of the F3DM, though its all-electric range may not stand up to lithium ion-powered vehicles in the long run. But a range of 62 miles on electricity alone is nothing to scoff at, and a gasoline-powered trip-extending engine puts range anxiety to rest. More convenient still, the car can charge overnight on a traditional household outlet—no special fixtures necessary—so the F3DM can top up virtually anywhere. Using a special BYD charge station, recharge is even faster; the company claims the F3DM can obtain a 50% charge in a mind-blowing 10 minutes on their special hardware.
So why will the West have to wait so long? For one, BYD is busy. It recently inked an agreement with Volkswagen to jointly develop electric cars, and BYD's five-passenger, pure electric e6 is slated for production later this year, another game-changer the company claims can cruise 250 miles on a single charge. While it may be difficult for BYD to live up to the hype, at least one very savvy investor believes they can. As markets were tanking last fall, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway scooped up a 10% interest in the company. That's an endorsement that's hard to ignore.