China battery company launches plug-in
Dec 15, 2008 - Elaine Kurtenbach
- The Associated Press
Battery maker turned car company BYD Co. has launched
China's first homegrown hybrid vehicle for the retail
market, seeking an edge over its crisis-stricken international
BYD presented the vehicle, known as the F3DM, in
a ceremony in the southern city of Shenzhen, where
local officials have pledged to buy some of the cars
in support of the project.
The vehicle can run up to 100 kilometers (62 miles)
on its electric engine, and when it runs low on power
shifts to a back up gasoline engine. Its battery can
fully charge in nine hours from a regular electrical
outlet, or much faster at BYD's own charging stations,
the company said in a statement.
The car will sell for 149,800 yuan ($22,000), about
the same as many Chinese-made mid-sized cars, it said.
Although the car is just now hitting the market,
BYD claims to have leapfrogged larger automakers to
be the first company to commercialize plug-in hybrid
technology, which allows the batteries of the F3DM
- DM stands for duel mode - to be recharged without
any special infrastructure.
General Motors Corp.'s own plug-in electric car,
the Chevrolet Volt, is due to roll out in late 2010.
Toyota Motor Corp. also is pushing to get a plug-in
electric vehicle to market in 2010, while Ford Motor
Co., says it is five years away from producing them
in significant numbers.
Still, developing a safe plug-in has been a major
challenge for automakers, and it was unclear what
sort of standards the BYD vehicle had met.
BYD, a private company based in Shenzhen, started
out as a maker of rechargeable batteries. Its foray
into electric car manufacturing drew broader attention
recently when MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., a unit
of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., invested
in a 9.9 percent stake in the company.
Encouraged by government support for alternative
fuel technologies, BYD - whose name stands for "build
your dreams" - has pressed ahead with developing electric
vehicles, despite weakening sales in China and elsewhere.
The company has said it plans to export the cars
to the United States, but its vehicles must first
meet stringent U.S. safety standards - a requirement
that so far has deterred other, better-known local
Eager to limit its fast-growing dependence on the
crude oil imports needed to fuel its growing legions
of autos, and to limit choking emissions, China is
pursuing a medley of programs aimed at putting new
energy buses and other vehicles on the roads.
Last week, China's Ministry of Science and Technology
and the U.S. Department of Energy agreed to collaborate
on alternative fuel vehicles, focusing on battery
performance, testing and evaluation - areas bound
to dovetail well with BYD's own approach.