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Kevin Bullis

A View from Kevin Bullis

Lackluster Sales of First Plug-in Hybrid

Chinese automaker BYD has only sold 100 of the vehicles in 8 months.

  • September 18, 2009

At the end of last year, the Chinese automaker BYD became the first company to sell plug-in hybrids, a type of vehicle that could dramatically lower fuel consumption by allowing people to commute using electricity alone (an internal combustion engine would still provide power for long trips).

Now supporters of the technology will be hoping that its performance on the market isn’t a harbinger of things to come. It’s been reported that over the eight months since, only 100 of these cars have been sold (via Green Car Congress), far less than an anticipated run of 3,000 to 4,000 vehicles.

In the United States, the first plug-in hybrid will likely come from start-up Fisker Automotive later this year, followed by the much publicized Chevy Volt next year. GM, through its heavy marketing of the Volt, has staked a great deal of its reputation on the car. It’s expected to sell for $40,000-$45,000, and the Fisker vehicle–a luxury sedan–will sell for $87,900. The BYD vehicle hasn’t been able to sell its vehicles even though they’re much cheaper–about $22,000. Of course, we’re talking about different markets.

All three of these vehicles have large battery packs capable of storing enough energy for over 40 miles of driving. Toyota, which this week unveiled a prototype of its own plug-in hybrid at the Frankfurt auto show, is trying a different strategy–its car will only provide about 12 miles of all-electric driving. The smaller battery pack required could make such cars cheaper than longer-range vehicles, although it’s not clear Toyota can beat BYD’s bargain basement price–the company’s conventional hybrid, the Prius, costs as much as BYD’s plug-in hybrid. But Toyota is planning to test a few hundred of its plug-ins under real world conditions before bringing them to market. And BYD will reportedly start selling its plug-in hybrid in the United States in a couple of years.

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