Chinese electric carmaker BYD on Tuesday announced an ambitious plan at the North American International Auto Show to become China's top automaker by 2015 and the world no.1 by 2025. As its first step of the plan, it will launch an electric car in the U.S. this year, BYD chairman Wang Chuanfu said.
BYD unveiled its five-passenger e6 electric car at the show. Slightly smaller than the Hyundai Sonata, it has a top speed of 140 km/h and can travel 330 km on one charge of its batteries, the automaker claims.
"Over the next five years the [output of] Chinese auto market will expand to 20 million units a year," Wang predicted. As it would be impossible to run all those cars on fossil fuels, "I think the market now is looking at electric cars," he said.
China displaced the U.S. as the world's largest auto market last year with sales of 13.6 million units. But BYD sold only 450,000 cars in 2009, less than the 573,000 sold by Hyundai Motor in China in the same period.
Wang's grand plan received a mixed response. The e6 uses lithium iron phosphate batteries which are cheap but low-voltage and thus rather large. They account for a third of the car's total weight, and take up a large chunk of space in the rear of the vehicle, making the back seats cramped. Also, the car has not been tested to see if it meets the U.S. government's stringent safety regulations.
But experts say that the e6 can be price-competitive because BYD produces the batteries itself. "The success of electric cars depends on how much the batteries cost, so in that sense BYD has potential," especially in the Chinese market, a Hyundai Motor staffer said.