Only one Chinese automaker made a splash at the 2011 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, MI, and that was BYD (Build Your Dreams). Despite the fact that BYD faced a troubled 2010 in its home market, the company's founder and chairman Wang Chuanfu made the trek across the Pacific to address the media, many of whom have been curious as to whether the automaker will be able to follow through on its promise to bring electric cars - or cars of any kind - to the American market.
The presentations given by BYD, Wang Chuanfu and other BYD executives and dignitaries at the Detroit Auto Show were confusingly broad, with much of the focus shifted away from the specific vehicles that BYD had on display at its booth. Instead, Build Your Dreams officials elaborated at length about the company's 'Three Green Dreams,' which boiled down to scathing criticism of current world energy use, the habits of hybrid automakers and the potential offered by BYD's energy storage systems to help electrify the grid from solar sources. The presentation was at times dark, authoritarian and belligerent - both on video and in live remarks - with little mention made of BYD's automobile plans for North America until deep into the media conference.
After the rhetoric concerning energy responsibility had settled down, BYD did make several intriguing statements concerning the potential for its vehicles to eventually find an American audience. The current plan is for the BYD E6 electric sedan to be introduced in the first quarter of 2012, followed by the S6DM dual-mode crossover (which features both electric and gasoline drivetrains).
The BYD E6 has already seen some sales activity in China, with government and taxi fleets purchasing several hundred editions of the car. The sedan is capable of traveling 200 miles on a single charge and would retail in the United States at an MSRP potentially as low as $35,000. The S6DM's dual-mode system gives it a range of 38 miles on battery power alone or a Chevrolet Volt-style 310 miles when using gasoline as a range extender. The vehicle uses the internal combustion engine to power the front wheels while the electric motor tackles those at the rear.
The decision by BYD to place at least as much emphasis on its general power management and energy storage technologies as its automobile products is a further indication of the repositioning that the company has had to make due to pressures in the Chinese market. Sales of BYD vehicles have been healthy in certain segments, but competition has grown increasingly fierce for the few Chinese families in the market for a new car or SUV. BYD's falling stock price has essentially forced the corporation to diversify its business strategy to include non-retail sales.
The presence of BYD at the 2011 NAIAS should be taken as a positive indication that the company is still serious about bringing an electric vehicle to the United States. However, the company's financial troubles and lack of a clear plan for accomplishing this goal do not offer electric car fans any concrete hope regarding a firm release date for either the BYD E6 or the BYD S6DM.