Wang Chuanfu, BYD F3DM Hybrid - China Is Electric

Don Sherman
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Joe Vaughn

At 28, he founded the world's largest supplier of cell-phone batteries. His company also supplies low-cost batteries for One Laptop Per Child. In 2003, BYD chairman Wang Chuanfu, then 36, bought a car company, gave it the BYD name, set up an R&D team of 3000 engineers, and on December 15, 2008, put the world's first plug-in electric car on the market.

"Many people have asked me why I bought a car company. I have two reasons. First, the market is huge in China. Second, we have the world's battery technology. We believe the age of gasoline will pass and power will come from new energy sources."

"In this industry, everyone thinks EVs will be prevalent in 2030. But at BYD, we believe it's within ten years. Inside of ten years, the dual-mode hybrid will be worldwide."

"We could make a car like the Tata Nano, but there's no market for such a car in China because it is too basic - no power steering, no rear hatch."

"We are targeting both the F3DM [Toyota Corolla-size compact, out now] and F6DM [Camry-size sedan, due later this year] for the U.S. market. It takes about three to five years, and during that period we have to finish homologation and marketing research and set up a distribution relationship."

BYD Wants to Build Your Hybrid

At last year's Detroit auto show, BYD Auto's chairman and president, Wang Chuanfu, presented his firm's prototype F6DM plug-in hybrid sedan to reporters. The yawns of disinterest were widespread. Later, Wang bragged that BYD's "nuclear weapon may change the world."

BYD Auto is a subsidiary of BYD Company Limited, the world's leading producer of nickel-metal-hydride batteries and lithium-ion cell-phone batteries.

Last December, BYD armed its weapon's fuse by introducing the world's first plug-in hybrid for sale (initially) to government agencies and corporate bigwigs. Costing approximately $22,000 in China, the F3DM (pictured) - which is about the size of a Toyota Corolla - has a 60-mile pure-electric range and a top speed of about 100 mph, according to its manufacturer. A full recharge of its lithium-ion batteries takes seven or more hours, but a special charging station can allegedly replenish half of the car's electrical energy in only ten minutes.

Although the DM in the car's name stands for Dual Mode, there are actually three propulsion alternatives: as a battery-powered electric vehicle, with a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine driving a generator for extended range, or with both the electric motor and the engine powering the front wheels in parallel-hybrid fashion.

BYD's ambitious plans include 350,000 total sales this year (double the number of cars delivered last year), a new pure-electric model, and entry into the U.S. market next year.

Now, when Wang speaks, reporters listen with rapt attention.

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