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Chinese carmaker takes up hybrid challenge

Latest update : 2008-12-15

Chinese competition in the car industry has moved into the promising market for mass-produced hybrid electric vehicles with the launch of BYD Auto's F3DM. Retailing at a cost of $22,000, the car can be reloaded on a household electrical outlet.

AFP - China's first mass-produced hybrid electric car hit the market on Monday, its manufacturer said, in a move aimed at driving the nation to the cutting edge of the world's green auto industry.
  
The car is made by BYD Auto, a Chinese company backed by American Warren Buffett, one of the world's most successful investors who owns 9.9 percent of the firm.
  
The F3DM is also the world's first mass-produced plug-in hybrid car, meaning owners can charge it from powerpoints at home for the first time, as well as in specialised electric car charging stations, according to BYD.
  
BYD president Wang Chuanfu was quoted by Chinese media as saying that his firm and China were on their way to being world leaders in the fuel-efficient auto industry.
  
"Through the F3DM dual-mode electric vehicle, BYD will grab a head-start in the new energy automobile market," he said at the launch in the southern city of Shenzhen, according to Auto 18, an online platform for China's auto industry.
  
A spokeswoman for the company confirmed the launch took place on Monday, but gave no other details.
  
BYD, which also specialises in making rechargeable batteries, only started making cars in 2003 when it bought a bankrupt state-owned auto company.
  
Its hybrid car is planned to first go on the market in 14 Chinese cities, and the firm is initially focusing on striking deals for company fleets rather than individuals, mycar168.com, another auto website, quoted Wang as saying.
  
The United States, meanwhile, is currently examining the F3DM to see if it meets the necessary standards for its domestic market, a spokesperson for the firm was quoted as saying by pcauto.com.cn, another car-focused web portal.
  
Exports to the United States could begin from 2010, according to the report.
  
The Prius hybrid electric car, made by Japan's Toyota, is currently sold in China, but the F3DM is the first locally made hybrid vehicle to hit the market.
  
Other carmakers in China have also manufactured these types of hybrid cars but never released them for public sale, said Duan Chengwu, a Shanghai-based technical analyst with international market research firm Global Insight.
  
The F3DM, meanwhile, has beaten Toyota and General Motors in the plug-in area, as the two companies only plan to launch hybrid cars that can be charged from home in 2009 and 2010 respectively, Duan said.
  
BYD's hybrid car, which can run 100 kilometres (62 miles) on a full battery, will cost just under 150,000 yuan (22,000 dollars).
  
Duan expressed doubt that the F3DM would initially be successful with Chinese customers because of the high price.
  
"In the initial stage, I don't think Chinese customers will buy a lot of these cars, but BYD wants to use them to test the waters," he said.
  
"Ultimately, though, this kind of car has a big potential in the Chinese market, and in the world market, because we all know we need new energy cars to solve the environmental and oil crisis problems."
  
Duan said Chinese automakers still lagged behind Western companies in conventional car technologies, but were at a similar level when it came to hybrids.
  
"The Chinese manufacturers have the opportunity to leapfrog the traditional technologies and to gain a leading position in terms of new energy cars," he said.

Date created : 2008-12-15

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