China’s New Car: Plug In, Turn On, Drive Out
by Bill Chameides | December 17th, 2008
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)
BYD Auto’s experience in developing batteries has likely given it the edge to be the first to market with a plug-in hybrid.
Back in the ‘50s, a strange little car from Germany suddenly appeared — the Beetle. No way, we thought, could Germany compete with Detroit. We were wrong. Now here comes a Chinese carmaker with a state-of-the-art green car. Will China be the next Germany on the road?
The F3DM is the new car from China’s BYD (“Build Your Dreams”) Auto. And okay, the F3DM (DM stands for “dual mode”) is not a Tesla: it isn’t 100 percent electric, it doesn’t go 0 to 60 mph in less than 4 seconds, and it’s not a sexy sports car. True, but it also won’t set you back $109K. In fact, the F3DM — which went on sale in China this week (it’s not available yet here) — costs less than $22K.
The F3DM — which has set the blogosphere abuzz — is a sleek, mid-size, 4-door sedan with highway capability, decent acceleration (0 to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds), and amazing fuel efficiency (more details here and here).
It’s a hybrid. So it can run on both its battery-powered electric motor and its 1.0-liter gasoline engine or on the battery alone. Powering off just the battery gives the car a range of about 60 miles with a top speed of about 100 miles per hour. So, the battery is probably all you need for short trips to work and the store. But longer distances are no prob — just switch to gas-electric power. The car reportedly uses 12 kilowatt hours per 60 miles and can travel about 200 miles per charge.
It’s a plug-in. Its lithium-ion iron phosphate battery is fully rechargeable — 8 to 9 hours plugged into a regular 220V socket should juice it up — and is expected to last more than 2,000 cycles or about 10 years.
Not the Only Plug-In Around — But BYD Auto’s Is the First to Market
Of course, China’s BYD Auto isn’t the only automobile company working on a plug-in hybrid.
General Motors has the Chevrolet Volt, and Toyoto and Ford are working on their own plug-ins. However, while BYD’s F3DM is hitting the market now, GM’s and Toyota’s versions won’t be available until 2010 (when BYD is expected to enter the U.S. market), and Ford’s won’t be available for about 5 years. How is it that a Chinese company that didn’t even make cars five years ago got to the plug-in hybrid finish line first?
Before getting into the car business, BYD made batteries — lots of them. BYD controls 65 percent of the world’s market for nickel-cadmium batteries and 30 percent of the lithium-ion cell phone batteries. This is a huge advantage as battery development has been the sticking point in hybrid and plug-in development. These cars need lightweight, compact, rechargeable batteries that can store lots of power. And so BYD’s expertise in batteries allowed them to “leapfrog the traditional technologies,” and go straight to the next generation of cars.
China’s Plug-In Car: The Wave of the Future?
Will the F3DM measure up to its hype? We’ll have to wait and see. But the release of the F3DM is an exemplar of Tom Friedman’s notion that the “world is flat.” America’s historical position as an economic powerhouse no longer guarantees such a position of prominence in the 21st century.
Many economists agree that green technologies will be the wave of the new century. If the United States does not move aggressively into this area, others like the Chinese will happily fill the vacuum. (BYD Auto has secured a spot on the main show floor at next month’s big auto show in Detroit while name brands like Nissan and Infiniti have pulled out.) Either way, the world will get the new technologies it needs; the question is will America lead or follow? This is a question the new administration is no doubt pondering. Will a Detroit bailout be part of the solution or will it be Chapter 9? We should know soon.
Oh, in case you were wondering. BYD Auto is planning to send the F3DM to American showrooms soon. You could be the first on your block to drive China’s answer to air pollution and global warming — the world’s first commercially available plug-in hybrid.filed under: automobile, business, faculty, transportation
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