BYD, which is virtually unknown outside China, has done a deal with Mercedes-Benz and will collaborate on a joint-venture electric car. The Chinese company is putting up its battery technology and e-drive systems while the Germans will contribute the electric-car knowledge and experience. The tie-up could also have a surprising side-effect - improved safety for Chinese cars.
"It is a co-operation between the most senior automaker and the most junior," says BYD's general manager of international sales, Henry Li. "We know the requirements for safer cars and we will have cars that meet those standards. We are very keen to make sure all our cars pass the crash tests."
Mercedes believes the tie-up with BYD is a win-win business model. "Daimler's knowhow in electric vehicle architecture and BYD's excellence in battery technology and e-drive systems are a good match," says company chairman, Dieter Zetsche.
The two companies will also collaborate on a technical centre in China to develop and test the electric car, which will be marketed under a new joint-venture brand specifically for China.
BYD is moving ahead rapidly on the electric front and showed its new E6 electric wagon and F3DM electric sedan at the Geneva Motor Show.
The E6 has a range of 330 kilometres between charges using what BYD calls the 'Fe lithium-ion phosphate battery' and a 74kW/450Nm electric motor. The car's battery can be recharged to 50 per cent capacity in 30 minutes and the pack has a 10-year lifespan. The car will hit 100km/h in less than 14 seconds, with a projected top speed of 140km/h. The E6 will be sold first in the USA and then Europe in 2011, with both front and all-wheel drive.
Li says the first target is taxis and large corporate fleets. "We don't expect to build high numbers but it is an important car for us," he says.
BYD is aiming to be China's best selling car company by 2015 and on top of the world by 2025. It is already sixth of China's domestic brands, with sales of 450,000 cars in 2009. But Australia is not a target yet. "We want to concentrate on America and Europe first, and obviously our home market," says Henry Li.