China’s BYD Auto Co. Ltd. beats Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Corp. to the punch by offering the world’s first plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle with the launch of its ‘09 F3 DM sedan.

The Chinese auto maker says the car is able to travel 62 miles (100 km) in electric-only mode, after which it can be recharged via a 220-volt household outlet in as little as seven hours.

A 50% charge can be achieved in 10 minutes by plugging into a quick-charge station, which the auto maker says are becoming more common in China’s urban areas.

First shown at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit last January, the PHEV is based on BYD’s conventional front-wheel-drive F3 model and features the auto maker’s 1.0L 4-cyl. gasoline engine mated to a dual-mode parallel hybrid-drive system and proprietary lithium-iron phosphate battery.

The gas engine acts as a backup power source when the batteries are depleted and can double as a generator to replenish the charge, the auto maker says.

During the recent launch ceremony at the company’s headquarters in Shenzhen, China, Wang Chuanfu, BYD’s founder and chairman, said hybrid vehicles are “the best way for the Chinese auto industry to surpass other leading countries.”

GM plans to offer its Volt PHEV in late 2010, while Toyota says it will begin testing PHEVs late next year.

The Chinese government says it will support domestic auto makers’ research into alternative-energy vehicles, with plans calling for 60,000 such vehicles on the roads of 10 cities by 2012, Bloomberg reports.

Wang tells the financial news service the government also is considering subsidizing hybrid cars to make them more affordable to consumers. The first deliveries will go to the Shenzhen government and the China Construction Bank, which last week inked deals to purchase a total of 50 cars.

The F3 DM will sticker at about RMB151,000 ($22,000) and initially will be sold to government agencies and corporations, Wang says.

Volume projections for the F3 DM have yet to be disclosed, but Wang is quoted in media reports as saying BYD plans to sell 350,000 vehicles overall in 2009, double that sold this year. The auto maker will introduce four new vehicles next year, including an all-electric car, he says.