Competition in the burgeoning electric vehicle market is heating up. Green car enthusiasts are already salivating at the chance to test-drive the Nissan LEAF and the Chevrolet Volt when they hit dealerships late this year. Now, it seems an underdog has stepped out from the shadows to give these big hitters a real run for their money.
At this year's Detroit Auto Show, Chinese automaker BYD announced plans to break into the North American auto market by selling their all-electric e6 in the United States by the end of the year.
While Chevy and Nissan don't have much to worry about in the short-term - initial rollout is currently slated for the Southern California market only - BYD has some pretty lofty goals that could spell trouble over the next few years. Specifically, BYD (which stands for "Build Your Dreams") plans on becoming no less than the world's largest automaker by 2025.
Clearly, that's an ambitious dream for a car company you've never heard of before. However, BYD is already off to a good start - sales in China jumped 130 percent last year to around 400,000 vehicles, and they currently produce the best-selling sedan in the country (despite the fact that they've only been selling cars since 2003). Additionally, the company has some major support from a few well-connected businessmen, including Warren Buffett, who invested $230 million into the company last year.
So why is Mr. Buffett, one of the world's most trusted investors, pouring his money into BYD? A lot of it has to do with the battery innovations they've created. For the 2011 BYD e6, the company is using an innovative battery that helps the all-electric post remarkable numbers. The lithium-ion technology, dubbed Fe by BYD (short for "ferrous"), reportedly nets 205 miles per charge and delivers a maximum speed of 87 mph. In comparison, the Nissan LEAF will max out at a range of 100 miles.
Just as impressive, is the e6's ability to recharge the battery by 50 percent in about 10 minutes (straight from a traditional household outlet). Do some quick math, and you'll realize that equates to more than 100 miles of range. To achieve that same range on the Nissan LEAF, you'd have to wait a total of seven hours.
The exceptional power of the BYD battery also unchains the e6 from another important consideration - vehicle size. The BYD e6, unlike the compact Nissan LEAF, boasts a well-proportioned crossover design that seats five passengers and still has room to haul some extra cargo. Given the fact that Americans tend to prefer larger vehicles, this could be a major advantage for the electric e6.
Yet another bonus of the BYD battery is the fact that it is constructed of 100-percent recyclable materials.
Interested parties can expect the BYD e6 to go on sale in Southern California this Fall. Base price is predicted around $40,000. If sales prove good enough, the company will bring the vehicle to other major U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Chicago and Boston.