Tue, January 13, 2009
Sci-Tech > Science > 2009 Detroit Auto Show

Chinese eco-cars make a splash at Detroit Auto Show

2009-01-13 07:23:56 GMT2009-01-13 15:23:56 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

China's BYD F3DM, powered by electric motors and gasoline engine, is displayed at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), in Detroit, the United States, January 11, 2009. (Xinhua/Hu Guangyao)

China's BYD E6, a pure electric vehicle, is displayed at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), in Detroit, the United States, January 11, 2009. (Xinhua/Hu Guangyao)

China's BYD F6DM, powered by electric motors and gasoline engine, is displayed at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), in Detroit, the United States, January 11, 2009. (Xinhua/Hu Guangyao)

DETROIT, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- Over 1,000 journalists and industry experts swarmed BYD Auto's news conference Monday, an almost unprecedented scene for Chinese car makers in the history of the renowned Detroit Auto Show.

The Shenzhen-based Chinese carmaker launched the world's first commercialized plug-in electric vehicle at the Detroit show Monday, a move described by some as a silver lining amid the pall of gloom cast by the global financial slump.

A host of major U.S. media, including ABC and Wall Street Journal, provided lavish coverage to the official debut of BYD's "e6," which can run up to 250 miles (over 402 km) purely on battery power.

Last month, BYD launched its plug-in hybrid F3DM, which it also exhibited at the show, at least a year prior to General Motors' most anticipated Volt, F3DM's counterpart.

So far, only the legendary U.S. auto giant and Toyota have announced plans to bring out such vehicles by 2010.

"This is the first vehicle of its kind in the world," BYD's founder- Chairman Wang Huafu told assembled reporters.

"The core enabling technology is the BYD Fe battery...(which) will have a lifetime of over 10 years, and has the capacity to be charged 50 percent in 10 minutes."

"Our goal is to introduce BYD electric vehicles here in 2011 and set up our manufacturing facilities in the U.S. when it is appropriate," Wang added.

European and U.S. industry insiders have begun to take Chinese car makers "very seriously," said Peter Rawlinson, chief executive of PFPR Communications, a leading British automotive PR consultancy.

"With the advanced propulsion technology, the quality, proved reliability, good value and hopefully good price," BYD is going to "make it big," he told Xinhua.

Rawlinson noted that the fervent attention from Western customers would actually shore up the Chinese carmaker in its effort to enter the U.S. auto market and "Europe, too."

In terms of marketing strategies, Rawlinson suggested BYD work with more independent business consultants as well as industry critics, who he said would "step back and point out areas that BYD can improve upon."

Brian Henderson, an independent auto analyst, was very impressed by BYD's background as a renowned battery manufacturer.

BYD produces 70 percent of its vehicle parts including all core parts including the battery, and exports to more than 20 countries, with Russia as its main customer.

Eco-friendly products are the future of the auto industry and China leads the way in the practical use of electric power in autoproduction, Henderson said.

The American analyst, who has worked with Japanese automakers, told Xinhua BYD has apparently learned from other successful automakers before going this far to present such a revolutionary product.

However, it will take more effort and time for BYD to enter the United States, one of the world's most competitive markets, he said.

Aside from advanced technologies, quality and proved reliability still hold the key to business success, he noted.

Henderson highlighted the urgent need for Chinese car producers like BYD to get better connected with potential U.S. customers, through such means as opening an office in the United States.

"You have to let your customers become familiar with your brand," he said.

He expressed strong approval of Chinese automakers' plans to recruit auto engineers in the Motor City, as Detroit is called, to bring on board top-notch talents to help further improve their products.

The potential profits Chinese automakers promise seem to have attracted some U.S. investors as the big three U.S. auto giants remain teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.

Max Holmes, president of China Car Distributors, showed intense interest in ushering BYD into the U.S. auto market.

Praising F3DM for its "advanced and feasible" technology and "appealing" design, Holmes said BYD's chances of capturing a share of the U.S. market was very "promising" if it passed crash and other safety tests.

BYD's plan to march into the United States is "ambitious but practical," he added.

Nevertheless, skepticism remains on the prospects of Chinese cars in their foray into U.S. markets, at least for now.

BYD might not be ready yet for the U.S. market, which always doubts the reliability and safety of a new car, said Todd Lassa, Detroit Editor of multimedia Motor Trend.

But he admitted BYD, especially with its F3DM, had made an "impressive debut" in Detroit.

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