China’s BYD Shows FE-Battery Powered e6 at Detroit Auto Show
The 2009 Detroit Auto Show gave EV-Motoring.com its first look at BYD’s Fe, or Ferrous battery technology (also called lithium ion-iron phosphate). The three vehicles BYD showed in Detroit were all fitted with Fe battery arrays. BYD has shown several of the company’s eight models at other major motor shows, including Beijing and Geneva. The F3DM and F6DM are conventional single-mode hybrids that utilize a hybrid system similar in concept to that used in a Ford Escape Hybrid or Toyota Prius. However, these models also incorporate plug-in recharging capabilities.
China’s BYD is among the largest producers of batteries in the world. They produce cells for laptops, phones… the works. It stands to reason that this 130,000-employee entity knows something about batteries. The company has a technology research center that employees 11,000, many of whom are engineers focused on the future of battery development and manufacturing.
BYD Chairman and President Wang Chuanfu stressed the quick-charge nature of their Fe batteries. When zapped with their special charging unit, batteries can gain a 50-percent charge in only ten minutes, and a full charge in just one hour. Overnight charging to 100-percent capacity using 110-volts requires 7.5 hours.
BYD also claimed that their new Fe batteries were capable of 2000 charge cycles, and had excellent durability. Batteries create voltage based on internal chemistry, and knowledge of this particular iron mix has been around for years. Sometimes called the Super-Iron battery, the chemistry is related to other lithium cells. The benefits of the BYD Fe design is that the materials it can use for its cells cost less and are more readily recyclable than competitive batteries using materials such as cobalt.
According to BYD, the cells are also safe in regards to crash testing and extreme heat loads. Both of these characteristics are important for battery electric vehicles (BEV) and hybrids because these vehicles carry hundreds of individual cells packed together in multi-cell arrays.
BYD just started selling the F3DM plug-in for approximately $22,000 in China. The compact sedan is based on the F3, a gas-only powered car BYD has had on the market in China for several years. To our eyes, the display example looked like a Toyota Corolla from 15 years ago built by a disgruntled union work force from Detroit. (Panel gaps were inconsistent and the overall level of finish was well behind the current curve.) None of BYD’s products are currently for sale, or even certified for sale in the U.S.
BYD began selling cars in its home market in 2003, and has 3,000 engineers devoted to their automotive development team. If the e6 is any indication, expect BYD’s design acumen and level of finish to improve rapidly.
The e6 was easily the company’s best looking model at their Detroit stand. It is a pure electric crossover. BYD estimates a range of 249 miles and has a claimed top speed of 100 mph. In terms of style, the small wagon/van reminded us of the original Honda Odyssey or of the tall wagons of the late 1980s.
Detailed specifications were not available from the BYD stand during the Detroit show, and the language barrier made it difficult to learn more about the number of Fe cells or the motors used to create the e6’s claimed 268 horsepower. Considering that the vehicle’s overall length is just 179.3 inches, about the length of a Chevy Cobalt, the e6’s curb weight of 4453 lbs. indicates that there are lots of individual batteries stored under the sheet metal.
Among many other hurdles, BYD will need to overcome American’s general fear and mistrust of Chinese products given the recent episodes of lead-laced paint on children’s toys and poisoned toothpaste. However, BYD’s efforts at Detroit demand respect and attention. This is a powerhouse of a company with great potential. While they’re not selling in the U.S. yet, it won’t be long before they are.
Rex Roy is an editor of EV-Motoring.com who can be reached via his website, www.RexRoy.net.
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