By Blake Muntzinger
Geneva marked the first European debut for Chinese manufacturer, BYD (Build Your Dreams). It presented five vehicles in Geneva this year, none of which are ready for the European market. BYD is simply gauging public reaction.
Beginning in 1995 as a battery manufacturer with 20 employees, BYD now employs 120,000 people. It entered the automotive sector in 2003 when it purchased Tsinchuan Automobile Company, enabling the new company to mate Tsinchuan’s auto manufacturing expertise with BYD’s IT technology.
BYD included its new F3DM (dual mode) in its display, which uses both electric and hybrid electric systems. Conveniently, it also uses a household 220V AC outlet to recharge the batteries. BYD states it can run 110 km (68 miles) on the electric battery, producing no emissions. BYD believes dual mode systems will replace hybrids as mainstream fuel-saving technology. It will be on sale in China by the end of 2008.
Working from smallest to largest is the F1, a car that according to the president of BYD will meet the young generation’s “fashion needs”. The untrained eye would lead the belief it was built in tandem with the Toyota Aygo/Peugeot 107/Citroen C1 triplets, but that is incorrect. However, visual elements from all three cars can be seen on the F1. Inside, slight modifications have been made, but the overall shape remains the same.
BYD’s F3 has been successful for the brand, selling 100,000 units 18 months after its launch in China. It, and the F3R five-door, have a Mitsubishi-sourced motor, and look as if Toyota’s Corolla served as the donor. Inside, both the F3 and F3R look uncomfortably similar to the Corolla, down to the switchgear. Meanwhile, park a Suzuki Reno next to an F3R and just compare the differences in looks.
I had an interesting experience with the F3 (similar to Toyota’s Corolla is size and appearance). After popping the deck lid to survey the trunk space, I could not get the lid to close without the car’s security alarm threatening to go off. After three tries and realizing what was happening, I decided it was better to leave it ajar and stroll off.
The F6 is BYD’s flagship model for the “business professional”. About the size of the last-generation Honda Accord, the F6 is powered by either a 2.0 liter or 2.4 liter engine, both built by Mitsubishi. It features include a six speaker sound system, “reversing radar”, GPS navigation and dual-zone climate control. Not to mention an interior that is peculiarly similar to the Accord as well. In fact, the BYD F6 looks like a Honda Accord from the A-pillar to the C-pillar with taillights lifted from the Maybach 62.
Comparing the quality between BYD and Brilliance (also in Geneva this year), BYD appears to be more ready for the North American market in terms of visual quality, even with the trunk lid hiccup. BYD expects 100 percent growth for 2008 when the F1, F6, and F8 convertible are released in China. BYD wants to be number one in China by 2015
, but it is difficult to think that this could happen without unintentional failures in the marketplace from GM, VW, Toyota and Honda.
No specific entry date has been set for the European market, much less North America, but officials would like to see vehicles sold in Europe in two to three years. However, it’s only a matter of time before they reach North America.
BYD is smart in taking its time with entering new markets. BYD and other manufactures have major hurdles to get over in terms of perceived build quality and safety. Also, I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the public and international auto press would have more respect for Chinese automakers if designs didn’t bear such a striking resemblance to vehicles produced by more established manufacturers.
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