BYD is the electric car company you have never heard of. That’s because most of its sales are in China, not the US. In 2015, it sold nearly 62,000 electric cars compared to Tesla’s 50,580. That made it the largest electric car company in the world in terms of total sales. Most of those cars were either the BYD Qin plug-in hybrid sedan or the company’s e6 electric SUV.
BYD America Vice President Michael Austin tells AutoBlog that about 80 e6 SUVs have been imported to the US, but all of them are for fleet use. About 50 of them being used as taxis in New York City. Another small fleet of them are being used by Uber in the Chicago area.
BYD is investigating the possibility of selling cars in the US. “If I brought [the Qin] to the US, it’d be a game-changer.” Austin says. BYD opened an office for North American operations in Los Angeles back in 2011, but it feels the time is not yet right for EV sales in the US. The federal tax credit of $7,500 is not enough, Austin contends. The American charging infrastructure is too rudimentary and poorly organized at present to support mass sales of electric cars. The Chinese government is putting much more muscle into its programs to transition to fossil fuel free driving, he says.
There are other considerations holding the company back from selling its cars in the US. “Right now, we really don’t have parts and distribution or consumer warranty service, and we don’t have a dealer network,” said Austin. “It’s easier to service fleets.” Instead, it is focusing on its electric bus business, where it is enjoying considerable success.
“There’s just no denying the increased presence and influence of the China’s auto industry on the (US) market,” said Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer. “There are still some obstacles to overcome, but I still think (BYD is) well-funded, and they’re going to keep researching the process to get through the regulatory procedures.”
BYD says its e6 can go as far as 186 miles on a single charge, putting it at about halfway between the range of the high end Tesla Model S and the more affordable Nissan LEAF. Asked when BYD might begin selling its cars in the US market, Austin would only say, “All I can say is that we’re absolutely committed to bringing our fantastic [Qin] to the US.” When that will be is anyone’s guess. BYD seems to be in no hurry.