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The World's First PHEV Car

The world’s first PHEV

– by Alfred Tian


In line with BYD chairman Wang Chuanfu’s timetable, the F3DM,theworld’s first mass-produced dual mode (EV+HEV) vehicle orplug-inhybrid (PHEV), hit the market on December 15, 2008 in Shenzhen, to be followed by 13 other Chinese cities.

A leading rechargeable battery maker, BYD embarked on its roadtoelectric vehicles the day when it entered into China’s burgeoning car business by purchasing bankrupt Qinchuan Autoin2003. According to Xia Zhibing, president of BYD Auto SalesCo.,the decision was made because of BYD’s core technology inbatteriesand the huge potential of eco-friendly electric vehiclesin thefuture. As for Wang Chuanfu, the dream of making electriccars canbe dated back to 1996 when BYD started from scratch.

Despite U.S. financial tycoon Warren Buffett’s investments inBYDand the launch of the F3DM in volume production ahead of bothGMand Toyota, BYD’s plug-in hybrid car as an impressive new typeofautomobile faces quite some challenges ahead before it becomesamass produced vehicle accepted by consumers.

The ferrous battery

Since BYD announced its breakthrough development of theso-called“ferrous battery” technology in 2007, which claims to betheworld’s No. 1 in technology “ahead of Japan for 20 years,” there have been numerous questions asked by boththeindustry and media.

There are two kinds of ferrous batteries, super ferrous andlithiumiron. According to local media reports citing batteryexperts,BYD’s “ferrous battery” is the same as a lithium ferrousphosphate(LFP) battery, which features high capacity, stableperformance,low cost and eco-friendliness. Wang said at the launchceremonythat each of BYD’s ferrous batteries used in the F3DM hasa3.3-volt voltage and 60 amp current. The charging cycle can lastupto 2,000 times, a life span of 600,000 km or 10 years.

But the LEP is said to have poor conductivity and lower tapdensity.Wang said in an interview earlier this yearwithCBU/CAR that “the ‘ferrous battery’ is similar totheLFP battery. But we use a different battery structure andadifferent electrolyte. The LFP battery itself does notdischargeelectricity. BYD has created many additives to make theferrousbattery discharge large amount of electricity in areliableway.”

To satisfy the needs of low cost, high capacity, safety andstableperformance, BYD’s ferrous battery still needs to survive thetimeand market test with volume production and extensive useandcalibration. It remains to be seen if BYD’s battery technologyissuperior to that of Sanyo or A123 Systems, partners of theworld’sleading automakers Toyota and GM.


GM plans to launch its first PHEV Chevrolet Volt in 2010andToyota the plug-in Prius in the same year. BYD’s F3DM is unlikely toarrivein Europe or North America in large quantities until after the GM and Toyota launch due to homologation requirements and the buildingofdistribution channels. The Chevy Volt and plug-in Prius wouldbemajor rivals for BYD’s dual mode cars in developedmarkets.

With a price tag of ¥149,800($22,000), the F3DM is expected tobeabout ¥50,000 cheaper than the Volt, which is to be retailedatabout ¥200,000 ($30,000). But the U.S government will offerafederal tax credit of up to $7,500 for an electric vehicle,whichhas been plugged into the new $700 billion bailout act fortheailing financial market.

In China, however, similar preferential policies on new energy vehiclesarestill in the making. There is also a lack of consciousnessamongthe general public in China in environmental protection and greenhouse gas reduction. TheF3DMat the beginning stage, therefore, will be sold mainlytoinstitutional buyers or fleets. This will hinder productionscaleand the further reduction in manufacturing cost.


Charging and driving

According to Wang, the F3DM is ideal for commuters who travellessthan 100 km roundtrip from home to work, and the cost in thepureelectric mode is only one-fourth of that of a regulargasolinevehicle.

The F3DM has a better performance than the Volt in terms ofdrivingrange and fast charge, according to its specifications. Butwithregard to plug-in charging facilities, there is an obviousgapbetween China and developed counties. In North America and Europe where many people live in independent houses with garages,plug-inis readily available at home. For city commutersinChina who live in apartment buildings, charging is a problem.Currentlythere are no power outlets in China’s inadequate parking lots in most cities.

It takes only 15 minutes to bring the battery capacity up to80percent in a fast charge of the F3DM. But by plugging intoahousehold outlet, it takes nine hours to recharge, longer thantheVolt, which takes 6-6.5 hours. Building special industrialchargingstations will be a huge infrastructure and social project,whichneeds joint investment efforts and coordination of centralandlocal governments, construction and power industries andbusinessenterprises. It will be a long time before fast chargingstationsbecome popular.

The curb weight of a F3DM is 1,560 kg, about 400kg heavier thanthegasoline-powered F3. With full charge, as shown in the testdrive,the F3DM can reach 125kW in power and it drives rathersmoothly.But when battery is depleted after 100 kilometers and theF3DMturns into hybrid, the drive power would come from a3-cylinder1.0L engine. It remains to be seen if the 1.0L engine hasenoughpower to drive the 1.5-ton vehicle smoothly.

The F3DM has much room to improve before it reaches thequalitylevel and driverability of regular gasoline car. As is showninCBU/CAR’s test drive of the F3DM, the vehicleisstill somewhat rough in steering and handling. It will takesometime before the F3DM is successfully calibrated under all kindsofroad, weather and driving conditions.

Overseas market

BYD is positioned to expand into the global market with itsdualmode and pure electric vehicles. It has signed agreements withClalIndustries and Investments of Israel and Autobinck oftheNetherlands to export Europe and the Middle East by 2010. BYD is also returning to Motown this January torecruitimporters and distributors in North America.

But BYD has to overcome tremendous hurdles trying to enterdevelopedmarkets, such as safety requirements, homologation,setting up salesnetworks, parts supply, warranty and aftersalesservice, finance andinsurance, brand image and prejudice againstChinese products,etc.

BYD is also known for building its F3, F6, F0 vehicles modelingonthe styling of Toyota and other popular models. Once sold in the developed markets,BYDand its vehicles will likely receive negative media coverage anditwill be an uphill battle to establish the BYD brand indevelopedmarkets.

As a brand new type of vehicle, the F3DM may have to wait foryearsbefore it can realize significant volume of production andsale athome and abroad. It took the Toyota Prius about 10 years toreachone million in sales. With a depressed world financialmarket,slowing demand and the plummeting of oil price, BYD has torely onincreasing revenue from sales of its traditional gasolinevehiclesin support of further investments on plug-in hybrids andpureelectric vehicles. It also takes time to build up itsbrandimage.

For the F3DM there is still a long way to go before it becomesamainstream new energy vehicle in the future

The World's First PHEV Car

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