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Summary:

For China’s BYD, the Warren Buffett-backed battery company turned automaker, hybrid sales have been anything but brisk this year. Since launching its F3DM plug-in hybrid model in December 2008, BYD has sold “several hundred” of the vehicles, according to a Reuters report on Tuesday. That’s up […]

For China’s BYD, the Warren Buffett-backed battery company turned automaker, hybrid sales have been anything but brisk this year. Since launching its F3DM plug-in hybrid model in December 2008, BYD has sold “several hundred” of the vehicles, according to a Reuters report on Tuesday. That’s up from only 80 F3DM sales through April of this year, and less than 100 as of August.

But while the pace has apparently picked up in the latter half of 2009, the model has come in well below the company’s ambitious sales targets — BYD originally aimed to sell 10,000 of the plug-in hybrids in 2009, and this fall reportedly scaled back to a goal of 3,000-4,000 units for the year.

BYD’s lower-than-expected F3DM hybrid sales this year contrast with sales of the gasoline version of the sedan, a best-seller on the Chinese market. They also contrast with how the automaker’s lineup fared overall. Paul Lin, manager of BYD’s marketing department tells Reuters today, “The company already reached its 2009 target of 400,000 vehicles in November, so now we are setting our 2010 target to double that number at 800,000 units.”

In all, BYD says it expects to sell about 440,000 vehicles this year. Lin said he expects growing consumer demand in China and government efforts to boost car sales as part of the country’s 4 trillion yuan (about $586 billion) economic stimulus package to help drive a boom for its auto business next year.

So far BYD has focused on fleet buyers (often the Chinese government or state-owned companies) for its plug-in model, rather than the consumer market where it expects to see growth for other models in 2010. As recently as this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the F3DM plug-in hybrid had “yet to appear in any dealership, leading industry observers to speculate its battery is not ready for prime time.”

BYD faces a number of challenges with the plug-in hybrid F3DM, but the price tag looms large. The F3DM goes for about 150,000 yuan, or nearly $22,000, which is more than twice the price of the gas version. The Toyota Prius costs nearly twice as much as BYD’s plug-in hybrid, but as Green Car Reports points out, it has not sold well in China. BYD has said it aims to bring that price down to about $16,000 through higher production volumes, helped along by U.S. and EU buyers.

More domestic competition for the F3DM hybrid is already on the way, with Chery Automobile planning to launch three electric vehicles and two hybrids for the Chinese market by early 2010, including an approximately $14,600 plug-in hybrid. But BYD is charging ahead to grab a slice of the plug-in vehicle market, both at home and abroad.

The company said earlier this month it’s eying the Los Angeles, Calif. region as a lead market for its planned 2010 launch of the all-electric e6 (the company’s first U.S. offering), and today Lin said BYD remains on track to start selling the all-electric e6 in China in the first quarter or 2010.

  1. Not great news, but it’s certainly promising. BYD is a new company selling a “cutting edge” car technology…so there’s a lot of risk for a buyer to overcome. And with the price premium so high on the “green models”, it’s no wonder they aren’t flying off the lots…it takes a lot of love to pay double to be green. Good article!

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  2. There is currently a lack of charging infrastructure in place to promote plug-in EVs in China. This will continue to be the biggest hurdle for EVs everywhere in the world for years to come. Even if the purchasing price of an EV equals a comparable gasoline powered vehicle, most people will still want the gasoline powered car due to the convenience factor. It is generally difficult for people to put a price tag on their “convenience cost”. The majority is not capable of assigning a realistic dollar value to their “convenience cost”, so many tend to have a wildly exaggerated assessment of this value which will always ending up bias against the true life cycle ownership cost of an EV.

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  3. Agreed on the convenience cost point, but one of the great things about a dictatorship is that you can make things happen fast…including setting up a charging infrastructure to go with your new electric cars…so I expect China to leapfrog the world on infrastructure (manufacture & deployment) this year: http://www.thegreencarwebsite.co.uk/blog/index.php/2009/12/31/largest-electric-vehicle-charging-stations-in-china-open-doors/

    Besides, anyone who has access to an outlet has access to charge their car…so there are actually thousands of crude “charging stations” out there already. Once it gets going, EV charging infrastructure will deploy MUCH faster than gas stations did.

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  4. What is truly suitable for China and beneficial to the rest of the world is not mass adoption of personal vehicles (including electric cars), but making public transportation more efficient and convenient to the people. When I visited Japan, Taiwan, and China recently, it was very refreshing to experience the convenience of not needing a car while be able to get to all the places I need to go.

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  5. I agree. While in Europe or the U.S. and electric car would probably be a replacement for an existing car, due to improving economic conditions in China, most of those electrics are probably going to be non-replacement vehicles. So that adds more cars to the roadways, increasing congestion and due to their heavy reliance on coal generated electricity, there will not be much of a reduction in greenhouse gas production. Not exactly a winning proposition.

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  6. [...] China’s BYD plans to show its electric e6 (pictured) in Detroit next week, as well as the plug-in hybrid F3DM it showed at this event last year. BYD, which claims the e6 can go 205 miles on a full charge and [...]

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  7. [...] car maker that has said it will sell electric cars in the U.S. starting in 2011. To date, however, BYD’s sales of its F3DM plug-in hybrid model have been weak. But according to previous reports, hybrid cars [...]

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  8. [...] 450,000 vehicles in 2009. Sales of the company’s plug-in hybrid model, the F3DM, came in well below the company’s ambitious sales targets for 2009. But in 2010 the company predicts it will sell a total of 700,000 [...]

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  9. [...] car named the e6. The F3DM initially rolled out for fleet customers in late 2008, and came in well below the company’s ambitious sales targets for 2009. But BYD started selling it to consumers in March of this year and hopes to launch its [...]

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