2009 Detroit Auto Show: China’s BYD Auto Shows Dual Mode Hybrid and Electric Vehicles
By Kevin Miller
Chinese automaker BYD Auto lucked out when Nissan and their Infiniti division chose not to come to Detroit this year. It scored them a place on the show floor on the main level of Cobo Hall, to display their unlikely hybrid and electric vehicles. The letters BYD evidently stand for “Build Your Dreams”, and while none of their cars are ones I’ll be dreaming of, the company is dreaming big with most of the vehicles it brought to Detroit.
Quite unlike American automakers with a century of manufacturing heritage, BYD was founded in 1995 in Hong Kong, as a manufacturer of rechargeable batteries, mainly for use in IT equipment. In 2003, BYD became the world’s second-largest manufacturer of such batteries.
BYD Auto manufactured their first car in just 2003, and in late 2008 they launched their first hybrid cars, the F3 DM and the F6 DM. In this case the letters DM stands for Dual Mode. With their sibling, the fully-electric e6 due later this year, BYD Auto is ambitiously embarking on hybrid and electric vehicle manufacture in China.
Looking vaguely like a previous-generation Toyota Corolla, and similarly sized, the F3 DM sedan is based on the basic F3- which is said to be one of China’s best selling cars. The F3 DM features a 67 HP, 1.0 liter 3-cylinder gasoline engine coupled to a 25 kW (33.5 HP) generator. Additionally, a 67 HP electric motor is present. Each of these three can briefly serve to power the car under full acceleration, for a combined output of 168 HP. The car can be plugged in to a household electrical outlet and charged overnight, but it can also be quick-charged to fifty percent of its capacity in just ten minutes. The F3 DM weighs in at 3439 lbs, with the hybrid system being about 880 lbs heavier than the gasoline-powered F3, which will surely affect the small car’s handling.
One size larger, the company’s anonymously styled F6 DM sedan employs the same hybrid drivetrain components. BYD states that the F6 DM consumes 16 kWh of electricity per 62 miles traveled, which is the same rating they give the F3 DM. BYD Auto provided specifications for their F6 CVT as well, which is an F6 sedan with a 138 HP, 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission. The curb weight specified for the F6 CVT is 3196 lbs. The curb weight of the F6 DM is 4144 lbs, so the weight penalty for the hybrid system in this larger car is a substantial 950 lbs. Subsequently, the F6 DM has a glacial 0-62 mph time of 13.5 seconds. Unfortunately BYD didn’t provide a spec of 0-60 time for their F6 CVT as a comparison. Weighing nearly a thousand pounds less, the non-hybrid car would surely smoke the DM.
Each of BYD’s Dual Mode hybrids can be operated in pure Electric Vehicle mode, or in standard mode which allows the power management system to determine whether the gasoline engine, electric motor, or both should be used. In EV mode, the F3 DM has a rated range of 62 miles. Since BYD also stated that the car consumes 16 kWh traveling 100 km, we can deduce that the battery pack has a useful charge capacity of about 16 kWh.
Unlike other automakers manufacturing hybrid and electric vehicles, BYD Auto is using ferrous batteries of their own design. Fe is the elemental abbreviation for iron, which we all know to be a ferrous metal. Of course, batteries manufactured from iron are heavy, though I don’t know how much heavier they are than Lithium-ion batteries which have been chosen by GM for their Voltec system, or the Nickel Metal Hydride batteries used by Toyota in their Prius. The chemical makeup of BYD’s battery is LiFePO4, Lithium-Iron Phosphate. The battery pack used in the F3DM is said to be rated 300 V, 40 Ah, and is operable between -15 and +140 degrees Farenheit.
In addition to their dual-mode hybrid vehicles, BYD Auto also showed a fully electric vehicle called the e6. Slated to enter production later this year, the e6 uses the same Fe type batteries found in BYD’s hybrid vehicles, though clearly in larger quantity. Styled as a squared-off five passenger crossover, the e6 tips the scales at a astounding 4453 lbs.
The e6 is planned to be offered in four different drivetrain configurations: 101 HP and 215 HP front-wheel drive models, and (101 + 54 HP) and (215+54) HP all-wheel drive models. Amazingly, BYD Auto specifies the e6 with a range of 249 miles, 0-60 mph time less than eight seconds, and a top speed greater than 100 MPH. With weight the known enemy of electric vehicle range, the stated curb weight makes the e6’s stated range and performance hard to believe.
Like the Dual Mode hybrid vehicles, the e6 is said to fully recharge from a household outlet overnight, though a quick charge of 50% of the battery power can be completed in just ten minutes. The charging port on the show vehicle was clearly hadmade, with a fragile and fussy looking cover that is presumably watertight. It is hidden beneath what looks like a standard fuel filler door on the e6’s left rear quarterpanel. .
With the range, speed, and weight numbers specified for the e6, it has to be absolutely packed with batteries. The trunk floor was visibly elevated, a sign that batteries or control equipment is located beneath. That being the case, the single battery cell pictured in BYD Auto’s brochure is a 3.3 V, 120 Ah device, for a total of 396 W/h. BYD has stated that the e6 uses 18 kWh when traveling 62 miles, so for the vehicle to have a range of 249 miles it needs to have a minimum energy storage capacity of 72 kWh. It will take a minimum of 182 of the cells pictured to provide that electric travel range. That is a lot of iron-based battery cells. No wonder the e6 weighs more than two tons.
BYD claims their Fe batteries maintain eighty percent of their charge capacity after 2000 charge/discharge cycles, and that because they are manufactured from iron rather than more expensive nickel or lithium materials they are less expensive to build than either of those types of battery. Additionally, all of the materials in the Fe battery are completely recyclable at the end of the battery pack’s life, and that the batteries have been tested for safety in the storage, operating, and emergency conditions which may be encountered in automotive use.
During their press conference, BYD Auto handed out copies of industry publication China Auto Review, which featured a special report on BYD’s hybrid systems. In the publication, BYD Auto’s chairman and president Wang Chanfu is quoted as saying “The Fe battery is BYD’s nuclear weapon, and it may change the world.” While something may have been lost in the translation from Chinese to English, the implication is clear- BYD Auto sees their battery technology as game-changing, a way to bring their hybrid and electric vehicles to market ahead of Western entries, at a lower price point.
Fancy propulsion technology aside, BYD’s vehicles lived up to my expectation of Chinese cars. Styling was anonymous, paint lacked luster, panel gaps were wide, interior materials and designs appeared to be a decade behind what consumers in the US have come to expect, and instead of a new car smell, the interiors reeked of petrochemicals. BYD would have done well to leave their vehicles’ windows open at the show to let some fresh air in and let the odor out.
Representatives from BYD Auto stated they hope to enter the US market with their vehicles in 2011. While the company’s lower-cost batteries and extended pure EV range may help make the cars attractive (assuming gas prices rise to the levels we saw last summer), many Americans will likely have a hard time swallowing the fit and finish of the BYD vehicles.
Realistically, my background as an electrical engineer causes me to be skeptical about BYD’s range claims for both the Dual Mode vehicles in pure electric mode and the e6, simply because moving a two-ton car 62 miles takes a lot of energy. With GM and Chrysler both targeting a 40 mile range on their extended-range EVs, the 62 mile range stated for the F3 DM and F6 DM seems optimistic, but achievable through good technology and light weight (but remember- the DM vehicles are not light). The idea of the 4400 lb e6, then, traveling 249 miles on a single charge, seems highly unlikely- but I’d love for BYD Auto to prove me wrong.
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