New energy car is back in the limelight as a trading concept on the stock market, and media have started comparing BYD (01211.HK) with premium electric car brand Tesla, saying it could become China’s Tesla in the near future.
BYD itself is trying sustain market interest by bombarding the media with updates on all kinds of test runs it has conducted in many developed countries.
Notwithstanding all the hype, however, the Warren Buffett-backed automaker is still not assured of a smooth ride in its overseas campaign.
Green Tomato Cars, London’s second-largest minicab operator, said it has pulled out of a deal to purchase 50 of BYD’s e6 electric cars. And just months before, Hong Kong’s Kowloon Motor Bus and a bus operator in Brussels refused to make any orders for BYD’s electric buses after a series of test runs.
So perhaps it’s about time to look under the hood of BYD’s media blitz and subject the carmaker to a reality test-drive.
BYD and Green Tomato announced earlier this week the two companies had “mutually decided that they will not pursue this venture further”, without giving any explanation in their joint statement.
However, the London-based company had been grumbling earlier on that BYD was not building the charging infrastructure rapidly enough to cover day-to-day taxi operations. This is also the complaint in Hong Kong. BYD has to build its own superchargers as they are not compatible with the more popular European and Japanese charging standards.
BYD’s e6 taxi has other drawbacks. Steve Cropley, editor-in-chief of the British magazine Autocar, wrote that the model’s materials and surfaces are unlikely to suit the taste of European buyers. Also, its trunk is small and shallow: “It’s hard to imagine four occupants’ airport luggage fitting into it.”
Green Tomato Cars is now considering other options in the e-car market. Spokesman Hamish Phillips said the company is very interested in Tesla’s Model S.
Phillips said the car has taken the electric vehicle concept to another level, although it comes with a higher price tag of £49,900 (US$83,426). The price would have to fall before the company could deploy them at scale, he said. The taxi firm is also test-driving the Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell electric vehicle.
London Mayor Boris Johnson has announced that all taxis operating in the city should be zero-emission type by 2018, meaning only electric vehicles will be allowed to operate as taxis four years from now. Needless to say, the policy has created enormous opportunities for electric automakers.
Currently, Nissan and Metrocab are in the race to supply taxis to the city as well. Metrocab is co-developed by Ecotive and British race-car maker Frazer-Nash.
Metrocab’s “Hackney Carriage” claims to be over three times more efficient than the existing London cab and costs around £33,000. The electric vehicle, the first of its kind to hit the city’s streets, is being test-run since January; Mayor Johnson himself gave it a test-drive.
Nissan is so far the best-selling e-car brand in Britain, having already sold 100,000 units. The Japanese maker is launching its eNV2000 taxi next year.
Most likely, the listof e-car makers for London’s taxi fleet is going to expand. Several other manufacturers, including Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, have hinted at offering a plug-in London taxi over the past few years, according to UK website Green Car Report.
London has about 30,000 licensed taxis as of April 2012, official data show. But tapping that market means BYD has to square off with lots of rivals, who may be equally good or actually technologically better.
This is going to be a fierce free-for-all, and BYD will be facing the same situation in the other Western markets it pursuing.
Stock market speculators may not care about this sobering reality at the moment; it’s easy for them to get caught in the exuberant mood. Besides, they expect more policy support from Beijing to boost the domestic e-car market, where competition is also catching up.
So all this negative feedback from potential users does not necessarily mean BYD and other new energy plays may soon stall. But it does signal a roller-coaster ride for such counters and that it will take a long haul before BYD’s e-car business is truly up and running.
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