Monday, January 12, 2009

Build Your Dreams Pt2

In part one of this post, we discussed BYD and why branching out into cars (especially plug-in cars) is a great business plan for a battery company. Now in part 2, we'll look at BYD Auto's planned products.

What does BYD have to offer?
BYD does not (yet) make trucks or SUVs. They are focused exclusively on cars. They make traditional internal combustion cars, as well as plug-in hybrids (PHEV) and battery electric cars. 

They currently have five body styles:
  1. F0 - two-door subcompact
  2. F3 - four-door compact sedan 
  3. F3R - four-door hatchback 
  4. F6 - four-door larger mid-size sedan
  5. F8 - two-door roadster
Then there are three drivetrain styles:
  1. (blank) - internal combustion
  2. DM - plug-in hybrid
  3. e - Electric

You can mix and match the body names and the drive-train suffixes for 15 different vehicles. Like the F3e, an electric 4-door, or the F6DM, a PHEV sedan. Not all 15 mix and match possibilities are planned for production. 

In July 2006, BYD showed a prototype of their F3e powered by BYD's "Ferrous" (or Fe) line of lithium iron phosphate batteries. BYD claims a range of 180 miles per charge and a projected battery life of 300,000 miles. BYD has said that they will mass produce both an F3e and an F6e.

If you need to drive more than 180 miles per day, then -you- -drive- -too- -much-. If an EV will not work for you because you don't have electrical outlets where you normally park or roadtrips are a regular part of your driving routine, then the PHEV would be a better choice. With a PHEV plugging in is optional. When you do plug-in, you use less gasoline.

BYD started working on their PHEV designs in 2003. They currently have 500 auto engineers working on the PHEV designs, which they refer to as "Dual Mode". When Toyota, GM and others say Dual Mode they mean that the vehicle is powered by combustion and electricity, aka two mode hybrid. BYD on the other hand, means that the car is both a plug-in EV and a full hybrid. So to be clear, I will refer to BYD's Dual Mode as a PHEV. 

BYD is working on PHEV versions of both the small sedan (F3DM) and the larger sedan (F6DM). Both can travel 62 miles (100 km) in electric mode on a charge. After that they become normal hybrids using their small gas engines and electric motors. Both have a top speed of over 90 MPH. 

Cost & Availability
The F3DM is expected to be launched in 14 Chinese cities in 2009 at a cost of about RMB 150,000 or around $22,000 USD. BYD initially said that it is targeting this car for the US market in 2010, then late in 2008 they moved this date to 2011. It is likely that the US version of the car will cost more than $22k. I'll make a guess that the US price will be $27,495. The F6DM will likely cost $4,000 to $5,000 more than the F3DM.

The federal government has already passed new vehicle incentives that can reduce the price of a plug-in car by up to $7500.  Additionally, Oregon Governor Kulongoski has proposed a $5,000 tax credit for plug-in cars to replace the current $1,500 credit on hybrids that Oregon offers. This would be on top of the $7,500 federal tax credit. Together, that's $12,500 off the price for Oregonians. If my price guess is correct, this would make the final cost, in Oregon after incentives, only $15,000 for the F3DM.

The Oregon incentive is currently just the governor's 2009 proposal. It is not yet in effect but it is part of a larger climate package bill that seems likely to pass. It could pick-up some stipulations along the way. Oregon has been wooing BYD to locate US manufacturing in the state. This incentive could be tied to those efforts by restricting the money such that it only applies to US assembled cars. 

Why GM Should Be Scared
The shift to (partial) electrically powered transportation is a major technology transition. These transitions happen over and over in the high tech industry. Companies and products that did not exist 5 years ago become mainstream and soon we wonder how we ever lived 
without them. A few years later, many are eclipsed and replaced by another. The auto industry has been relatively immune to these technology shifts. The only serious threat they have had to deal with is the rise of the Japanese competition. And they were losing that fight. Now they will have to deal with Chinese companies too. Welcome to the world of innovate or die. If BYD causes a "Wal-Mart" effect on the auto industry, it will be a true game changer.

Comparing the F3DM to the Volt


Chevy Volt

Electric Range

62 Miles

62 Miles

40 Miles

US Availability *


Dec 2010

Cost **


* final dates have not been announced
** final prices have not been announced for any of these vehicles, these are just my guesses

BYD has a longer electric range, cheaper price, more body styles. They also have pure EVs planned, so you can select the propulsion type that best fits your driving needs.

The longer electric range of the BYD cars will result in a higher gas mileage when blended with gasoline use, such as 120 miles on a weekend to the beach or the mountains. Whereas GM has announced that they think 40 miles is the 'right' electric-only range (the recently announced Cadillac Converj concept EREV also reportedly has a 40 mile electric range). GM has said that as battery tech improves, they will maintain a 40 mile range and will simply use fewer batteries. This is a stark example of BYD thinking like a battery company making cars versus GM's thinking like a car company forced to use batteries. 

Not as Easy as It May Sound
BYD still has a long way to go. 

If Governor Kulongoski does get the BYD assembly plant in Oregon that he is hoping for, the wages paid to American workers would be significantly higher than their Chinese counter parts, thereby reducing some of the cost advantage that BYD currently enjoys.

Their cars still have to pass the stringent U.S. crash test and safety standards. They do not have a dealership network in America. In fact, I am not aware of even one (freeway speed) Chinese car currently for sale in the USA. The global economic slowdown has reduced all car buying. Considering these obstacles, limited volume in 2012 might be more realistic. 

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

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