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GENEVA – BYD Auto Co. Ltd. moved up another notch in the “serious” category this week with the announcement that a new technical partnership with Daimler AG will result in an electric vehicle for China in several years.

BYD, which sold 450,000 gasoline-powered cars last year and about 100 plug-in hybrids, appears at the auto show here for the first time.

The Chinese auto maker is showing its e6 electric car and F3DM plug-in hybrid, as well as standard models, and says it has distributors in 10 European countries for its EVs and hybrids.

“BYD is a feature of Geneva from now on,” says Martin Parsons, general manager of Asia Auto Import, BYD’s importer for Switzerland.

The project with Daimler will lead to a new electric car, positioned above the e6. It will be co-owned by Daimler and BYD, says Henry Li, manager-international operations for BYD, and it will have a new brand name.

“We will have a common technical center in China to develop, design and test the car,” he says. “It’s a cooperation between the most senior automobile company and the youngest, the most luxurious and the fastest-growing.”

Li says the e6 will be sold in China this year and in the U.S. and Europe next year, with the U.S. getting the car first.

Distributors in the U.S. and Europe will get the F3DM and e6, but not the gasoline cars. BYD reportedly expects to sell 800,000 cars and export 40,000-80,000 this year. In 2009, the company exported 9,000 cars of the 450,000 produced.

The e6 is a fullsize car, with four doors and seating for five passengers. It has a 75-kW (100-hp) permanent magnet electric motor making 332 lb.-ft. (450 Nm) of torque, pushing the car to a top speed of 87 mph (140 km/h) and 0-62 mph (100 km/h) in less than 14 seconds.

Li says BYD-made lithium-ion batteries using a ferrous cathode can be recharged 2,000 times, typical of a 10-year lifespan, and achieves a 50% recharge in 10 minutes using a special 3-phase fast charger.

Parsons says if he could import the entire BYD lineup of cars, he could sell about 10,000 a year in Switzerland.

Parsons and the head of BYD’s Belgian importer, Pierre-Alain de Smedt, say getting recharging infrastructure in place is necessary before large numbers of EVs can be sold, but both say their countries are ready for EVs.

“We have cheap electricity in Switzerland, and people are willing to pay a premium for an electric car,” Parsons says. In Belgium, the government will support EV purchases with a €9,000 ($12,286) subsidy, says de Smedt.

Parsons says it’s up to distributors to decide whether batteries will be sold with the cars or leased separately.

In France, Automobiles Peugeot is planning to lease the battery for its electric iOn, a version of the Mitsubishi i-Miev, for €500 ($670) a month. “We are very much aware of what Peugeot is doing,” says Parsons. “If that works, we will follow it.”