BYD Still Plans On Selling Electrics, Hybrids In U.S.

Chinese automaker is committed to selling electric and hybrid vehicles in U.S., even after plans to offer an electric crossover in 2010 didn't materialize.

DETROIT (AP) -- Chinese automaker BYD Co. is committed to selling electric and hybrid vehicles in the United States even after plans to offer an electric crossover to buyers in 2010 didn't materialize, the company's founder and chairman said Monday.

The U.S. market remains important to BYD not just for selling vehicles, but for other green technology such as solar panels, energy-efficient lighting and battery storage, Wang Chuan-fu told The Associated Press in an interview at the North American International Auto Show.

"We are still working on refining the strategy, the final sales business," Wang said through a translator. "We're working hard on that."

Last month, BYD -- which stands for Build Your Dreams -- started a trial program with a fleet of plug-in F3DM hybrids in Los Angeles, where the company plans to open its North American headquarters in August. It plans more car testing and sales of its K9 electric bus this year before expanding to U.S. consumer sales in 2012, Wang said. BYD wants to sell the e6 electric crossover in the U.S., and the 2012 e6 Premier being shown in Detroit promises a 186-mile (300-kilometer) range and a top speed of 87 mph (140 kph).

Rebecca Lindland, director of automotive research with consulting firm IHS Automotive, said BYD will soon need to start establishing a dealer network if its new target for selling in the U.S. will hold. The growth potential of the Chinese market makes moving quickly into the U.S. less appealing for companies like BYD.

"The U.S. market changed a lot in the last couple of years," Lindland said. "The restructuring changed everyone's plans. I'm not surprised BYD isn't here yet. I think it's harder to make a business case."

Backed by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, BYD is using the Detroit show to highlight its "Three Green Dreams" strategy, which focuses on renewable energy generation, environmentally friendly energy storage and efficient energy consumption. In addition to the e6, BYD is showing a new dual-mode electric S6DM sport utility vehicle. BYD also is promoting the K9 bus, which promises a more than 155-mile (250-kilometer) range on a single charge.

The company's effort includes "Green City Solutions," such as plans to help cities electrify public transportation and cut pollution.

Shenzhen-based BYD sold nearly 520,000 vehicles in China last year, up more than 15 percent from 2009 but still below its initial forecasts of 800,000 vehicles. Wang said BYD needs to better manage its dealer network to improve sales. He said the company didn't yet have 2011 targets.

The company started out building conventional cars, and Buffett's backing has boosted its profile. In 2008, it became the first automaker to launch mass production of a plug-in hybrid electric sedan -- the F3DM -- that can be charged off a standard home outlet.

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