A test ride in BYD F3DM–it needs some work, especially the battery
I figured I should give the BYD F3DM hybrid car www.byd.com a chance to prove itself, so last week I dropped by the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles. The HACLA has ten F3DM cars (and some Toyota Priuii) in its fleet. http://www.hacla.org/byd-and-the-hacla-launch-electric-vehicle-testing-program/
The visit proved to me that BYD still has some work to do.
Lowie Bacierto, a housing inspector, is driving one of the BYD cars on his rounds. He took me for a spin around the neighborhood. Bacierto, an amiable guy who drives a Toyota Tacoma pickup when he is not at work, said he had no real complaints about the F3DM.
“It brings me from point A to point B. I’m happy,” he said.
Will that be enough for American consumers to spend their own money on this car? I think not.
For those of you who aren’t up on BYD models, the F3DM (DM stands for “dual mode”) runs on pure battery power for a while, then switches to a gas engine. BYD claims the battery recharges in about 7 hours on a 220 volt outlet. (Bacierto confirmed this.) With a special outlet –and it must be a really, really special one— BYD claims the battery can recharge 50% in 10 minutes.
BYD issued the hybrid to a few corporate entities in China in 2008. In March of 2010, it made the car available to private buyers. By the end of 2010, it had sold fewer than 1,000 units. http://chinaautoweb.com/2011/02/byd-delivered-only-33-units-of-e6-417-f3dm-in-2010/
That’s not surprising—the technology was new, and at RMB 169,800 (about US $25,800 at current exchange rates) before rebates–the price relatively high. The car is about the size of the Toyota Corolla, and it looks a lot like the Corolla, too (more on that later). The non-hybrid version of the F3 starts at around RMB 60,000.
Okay, pioneering technology costs money. But the technology has to be worth the extra cost, and I don’t think BYD’s F3DM is worth that premium.
To be sure, the F3DM feels okay to ride around the block in. That’s not a true test of a car, natch, but it didn’t make any ugly noises or stop unexpectedly. We ran on pure electric power for a few blocks, then Bacierto manually switched it to the gasoline engine. No loud noise, though he said that when the car makes the switch automatically , which occurs then the battery has about 25% charge left, it does sound like a car whose engine is cold in the morning trying to start up.
(That’s a much kinder description than that of Brad Berman, who reviewed it for the New York Times. He said it “screeches like a banshee.” We didn’t drive for very long, so I didn’t hear any screeching. ) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/20/automobiles/autoreviews/byd-f3-dm-review.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&sq=BYD&st=cse&scp=1
Indeed, we only drove the F3DM for about 2 miles. The battery was 100% charged when we left the underground garage that houses the fleet. When we returned, the battery charge was down to 88%. Hmmmm. BYD claims the car will run on pure battery power for 62 miles. Perhaps, driven carefully on the highway with few stops. Bacierto said he drove it to San Pedro, about 49 miles, on all electric.
Bacierto said he always tries to drive the F3DM like a conscientious environmentalist. Okay, he didn’t put it exactly that way. But he did say that since it wasn’t his car, he tried not to stomp on the accelerator. Doing that drains the battery, he said.
Clearly, BYD’s Fe battery needs some improvement. Maybe a lot of improvement. To harp on a popular theme of mine, BYD should have its battery tested at Argonne National Lab www.anl.gov or a similar type of testing facility so we can know what it is truly capable of.
As for the F3DM’s appearance, “The first thing I said is it looks like a Corolla,” said Bacierto. And it does. An older Corolla. You be the judge.
The interior is okay. Not bad, just boring and tan. http://www.byd.com/showroom.php?car=f3dm&index=3
Very much like the Coda electric car www.codaautomotive.com , the body and interior of which is produced in China . Must be a Chinese characteristic.
There are some issues with the design, however. The F3DM is not very roomy. One of the housing inspectors is nearly 7 feet tall, and he can’t fit in the F3DM at all, said Bacierto. Also, “the Chinese must drive on the opposite side of the street, the side mirrors are backward on this car,” said Bacierto. That is, the driver’s side mirror was for distance; the passenger side mirror for close up. No, the Chinese drive on the same side of the street as we do, I said. Oops.
A little whine—there are no cup holders in the middle. Not round ones, anyway. I’m not in Texas anymore so I don’t drink as many Diet Coke Big Gulps. Nonetheless, we Americans love our round cupholders.
BYD has said it is leasing the hybrid cars to the Housing Authority to learn about and work out these bugs. The design is tweakable, obviously. Still, how many tries does BYD need to get these simple things right? BYD has already redesigned the chassis so the battery pack hump doesn’t take up lot’s of room in the back seat. (Full disclosure: I forgot to check out the rear seat room.)
Those are very minor issues compared with the battery technology, however. And I’m not convinced BYD’s battery technology is very good.
Already, American consumers are disposed not to trust China-brand cars. His fellow inspectors didn’t want to drive the BYD car, said Bacierto. To overcome that skepticism, BYD needs to get it mostly right all at once, not incrementally. It needs to show us a really nice-looking hybrid or electric vehicle, with an interior that meets or beats the highest demands American consumers have for a non-luxury car that size. Since the F3DM looks so much like a Corolla, BYD could at least benchmark Corolla quality!
BYD people are meeting with Bacierto and others from the Housing Authority later this month for feedback. I don’t think they will like what they hear if he and others tell BYD hard truths.