While still best known as the world's largest manufacturer of batteries used in cell phones and laptops, BYD Co. has just launched its -- and China's --first mass-produced plug-in electric vehicle. Based on the company's fairly conventional F3 sedan, this Corolla-sized four-door dubbed the F3DM (for Dual Mode) will go on sale in China next year for about $22,000. BYD plans to expand F3DM sales to various parts of Europe and North America by 2011.
Unlike other existing electric vehicles, the F3DM uses a battery based on lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) chemistry developed by BYD. The firm says this proprietary power cell has a projected lifespan of over 370,000 miles or 10 years, can withstand 4000 recharge cycles and will allow the F3DM to run up to 62 miles on a pure electric power before a small gasoline engine kicks in to extend the total range closer to 270 miles. Fully replenishing the F3DM's battery takes about seven hours using a normal electrical outlet, but BYD says a 50 percent quick charge can be done in roughly 10 minutes.
BYD (which stands for Build Your Dreams) was founded in 1995 by Wang Chuanfu to produce batteries for cell phones. Since then, it has expanded its scope and now employs over 130,000 people, nearly 10 percent of them in an engineering capacity. One of BYD's most ambitious moves came in 2003, when it acquired the Tsinchuan Automobile Company Limited. Two months ago, the firm's prospects for success in ramping up its EV program got a significant boost when financier Warren Buffett invested $230 million from his Berkshire Hathaway fund to buy 9.9 percent of the Chinese company's stock. Next up on BYD's to-do list is the introduction of a mid-size plug-in electric sedan model, the F6DM. The firm is currently involved in numerous other EV projects around the world and recently held discussions with the city of Portland, Oregon, regarding the possibility of locating its North American headquarters there.