BYD F3DM - An Important Step at a Difficult Time

BYD’s F3DM (the DM stands for ‘Dual Mode’) went on sale in China on December 15, 2008, giving this vehicle the historical distinction of being the world’s first mass produced plug-in hybrid electric vehicle to hit the market.
BYD-F3DM

by Ross Bonander

Specs

  • Type: Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)
  • Class: Compact sedan
  • Manufacturer: BYD
  • Propulsion system: 1-liter 371QA aluminum gas engine gas + 50 kW electric motor for 125 kw (168 hp) total output
  • Top Speed: 105 mph (170 km/h)
  • Zero-to-60: 10.5 seconds
  • All-electric vehicle range: 68 miles (100 km)
  • Fuel(s): Electricity, conventional gasoline
  • Battery system: Lithium iron phosphate
  • Tailpipe emissions: Yes
  • Price: $21,200

The manufacturer says

“Determined to be an unconventional green vehicle, F3DM is unique to be powered by electric motors and a gasoline engine, fully utilizing the latest battery and automotive technologies [to achieve] optimal energy efficiency and [be] environment-friendly.”

The critics say

"But while the styling, build quality, and polish of BYD’s cars is frankly lackluster, the company deserves credit for working on a number of advanced powertrain solutions..." Car & Driver

FutureCars.com Overview

First introduced at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show, Chinese automaker BYD’s F3DM (the DM stands for ‘Dual Mode’) went on sale in China on December 15, 2008, giving this vehicle the historical distinction of being the world’s first mass produced plug-in hybrid electric vehicle to hit the market. If the battle for this distinction resembled a horse race, BYD was bumped at the gate and forgotten as jockeys in Detroit and Tokyo hyped their horses, and not unlike Giacomo’s unlikely win at the 2005 Kentucky Derby, BYD galloped past them all to take the honor.

However BYD has been in a good position to make this happen; they have a 30% share of the cell phone battery market, making them among the largest such producers in the world, they have the financial backing of Berkshire Hathaway, and they have an R&D team armed to the teeth with 3,000 employees.

What we like

The investors. Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) dropped $231 million for a 9.9% stake in BYD, and Buffet has historically shown a considerable degree of investment acumen over the years, to say the least. Clearly he sees a winner in BYD.

The price. The expected retail price of $21,200. By way of comparison, the ’09 Camry starts at around $19,000.

The all-electric range. At 68 miles, the F3DM has the yet-to-appear Volt’s 40 mile range easily trumped.

The body. BYD has little choice but to call this design “classic” but as Business Week pointed out, it’s pretty much a Camry and every other mid-size four-door sedan. The key here is that BYD has cloaked a PHEV inside the body of a conventional vehicle, making the transition to alternative fuels smooth and easy on a civilization that typically resists change.

What we don’t

Predicted foreign sales. Predictions are that the F3DM won’t hit shores in the US or Europe until either 2010 or 2011.

Conclusions

The plug-in hybrid electric vehicle is likely on a short leash, historically speaking. Her role is transitional, evolutional, a Lucy-like Australopithecus on the path to Homo sapiens. But this shouldn’t discount its role; this is an essential phase in the evolution of the Future Car. Unfortunately her timing could be better; the global economy is in a deep recession, and frankly the car’s price tag is a bit steep in China.

Still, her environmental virtues at this stage of the Future Car evolution can’t be denied, and her success—as a practical, reliable vehicle for the masses—is critical.

Resources

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