Special Coverage

Geneva
Auto Show

GENEVA – China’s BYD Auto Co. Ltd. plans to piggyback on environmental concerns in the U.S. and Europe with the introduction of hybrid and electric cars over the next few years.

“We are leading the world in battery technology,” says BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu at the Geneva auto show here. “And we are focused on automotive.”

BYD displayed its F1, F3, F3R and F6 models on its stand here, as well as an F3DM cutaway model. The DM (dual-mode) hybrid weighs 3,527 lbs. (1,600 kg), including its 507-lb. (230-kg) battery, and measures 178 ins. (453 cm) long. Both the permanent magnet-type synchronous motor and 1.0L engine are rated at 67 hp.

Part of the Shenzhen, China-based BYD Group, BYD Auto was created in 2003 from its parent company’s acquisition of Tsinchuan Automobile Co. Ltd. in Xi’an, the town known internationally for its hundreds of clay soldiers buried to protect an emperor’s tomb.

Last year, BYD sold 100,000 passenger cars in China, most of them the C-segment F3 sedan.

This year, the auto maker plans to double its sales, thanks to the ramp-up of the F3R hatchback and introductions of the F1 city car and F6 and F8 large vehicles. However, sales this year are off to a slow start, with January deliveries trailing year-ago 17.7% in a domestic market that is up 21%.

Wang says the first DM hybrids will be on the road in China late this year.

BYD aims to enter the European market in “two or three years,” Wang says, noting Europe will come before the U.S. due to the strong demand for fuel efficiency.

The European Commission is requiring a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency by 2012 that would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions for new vehicles. All auto makers are working on reducing mass, downsizing engines and introducing new fuel-saving technologies. Electric cars are sure to be part of the mix, because they will earn greenhouse-gas credits that can be used to balance big cars that emit more than the 120 g/km CO2.

The U.S. will be targeted in “four or five years,” says Henry Li, general manager of BYD’s auto export trade division.

BYD has not said what models the auto maker will try to export, but it is clear the F3DM is first among them.

The F3DM will have a range of 68 miles (110 km) on the electric motor and 236 miles (380 km) when running on its 1.0L gasoline engine.

BYD began life as a battery maker in 1995 with just 20 employees. Today it has 120,000 workers and sells 65% of the world’s nickel-cadmium batteries for laptop computers and 35% of the globe’s lithium-ion batteries used in cell phones.

Li says the auto maker’s ferrous (Fe) battery technology is an improvement over Li-ion.

“Mobile phone batteries are not safe enough,” he says. “The Fe battery is completely safe. Even in a fire or accident, it doesn’t explode.”

The power density of the Fe battery is about 10% less than in Li-ion batteries, he says, but the safety and much cheaper production cost make it a better choice. “Production and recycling are very environmentally friendly,” he adds.

The Fe battery has a lifespan of 10 years or 2,000 cycles, at the end of which the battery still has 80% of its capacity, Li says.

BYD has produced a series of pure-electric-car prototypes since 2003 and now is developing an electric minivan that seats seven passengers, Li says.

In January 2006, the auto maker established the Electric Vehicle Institute to concentrate on automotive research.