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.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Sustainable Energy

Can we sustainably provide food, water, and energy to a growing population during a climate crisis?

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

You've read of free articles this month.