Published on October 21st, 2015 | by Kyle Field25
Driving The BYD e6 On US Soil!
October 21st, 2015 by Kyle Field
After talking with BYD at Solar Power International last month, BYD invited CleanTechnica over for an inside look at the latest and greatest creations from BYD at their Lancaster (California) electric bus factory. Zach covered the launch of the facility back in May of 2013 on our sister site EV Obsession, and we were eager to get an update on what BYD has been up to since then.
Upon arriving at the factory, 3 BYD e6s and a Fisker Karma(!) were standing watch at the chargers out front. A closer inspection revealed that these are not the soon-to-be-released 2016 e6 that we recently announced, but rather the current model that is being extremely well received by taxi and fleets around the globe, having won fleet contracts in Chicago, San Diego, London, Shenzen, and elsewhere.
While BYD does not currently manufacture the e6 in Lancaster, it has these vehicles on site for visiting employees, guests, etc, which makes sense as they’re also a good lead-in to more EV sales for BYD. What sets the BYD e6 apart from most other EVs on the market is the range — the current BYD e6 is rated at 186 miles from its 60 kWh battery, which will get a hefty boost to 82 kWh in the 2016 update, which will deliver 250 miles of range per charge. On top of that, the 2016 model will be the same price as the current model, coming in at $48,350. The stats tell a compelling story, but does the car live up to its potential? Let’s find out.
After snapping a few pics of the cars and walking around to see them from all angles, I also noted that the e6 features a 7-pin charge adapter that is not compatible with any of the current standards in the US (Tesla, CHAdeMO, SAE Combo, J1772). While not an insurmountable challenge, this does feel like a disadvantage vs. current US consumer competition. As the e6 is primarily being sold to US fleet buyers, the charging adapter is no issue at all because they will likely install central chargers at their home base or depot and deploy their units from there. Flipping these cars over the fence to consumer space presents a different challenge. I talked to BYD reps about this and they shared that this was not a major concern, as charging formats are nowhere near standard and it was something they could change relatively easily if and when a dominant charging format takes the lead or is mandated in the future.
Hopping into the car, it had more tech than most gasmobiles but similar gauges and displays to other current-gen EVs like the Chevy Volt or the Nissan Leaf. Having all the displays located in the center of the dash took a bit of getting used to but also kept my eyes toward the middle of the car — and where the car is going — which felt natural by the end of the drive.
Pulling out onto the road, I was amazed by the range. The car had 31% battery left and still had 61 miles of range left. It’s one thing to see the numbers online and understand it logically but after having driven so many EVs in the sub-100 mile range category, being in an EV with a range of almost 200 mile range felt like a paradigm shift. The increased range alone really slammed me and took a bit of processing to realize how big of a deal it was and helped me better understand BYDs strategy for entering the global EV market.
Tesla took the approach of rolling out super high-end sports cars with hefty price tags to pay for their battery R&D and breakthrough EV tech. BYD took a different but seemingly just as effective angle on the challenge by focusing on mass transit and fleet products. Metropolitan mass transit buyers expect to pay an arm and a leg for their diesel, diesel hybrid, natural gas, or natural gas hybrid vehicles, so shifting comparable funds over to an electric bus instead is not an issue. Bundle that with lower operating costs, lower maintenance, lower failure rates, quieter rides, and less environmental impact and BYDs prospects are improving.
Its fleet e6 strategy falls right in line with its focus on an expensive but very practical electric fleet vehicle that can put in the necessary miles to handle taxi, shuttle, and other fleet duties. The higher price tag is similarly offset by the same benefits as buses. As technology improves, driving cost and weight of batteries down and efficiencies of motors up, range will naturally improve to the levels consumers expect while also coming in at lower price points, which to me means that Tesla and BYD will collide around Model 3 timing as two of the world’s EV heavyweights both enter the low-price consumer EV segment.
Elon doesn’t seem worried about BYD as competition even as early as 2011 when he laughed at BYD in a Bloomberg interview. BYD North America’s President Stella Li feels confident that BYD will be in a position to compete, primarily because of the options they will have for American consumers when BYD does decide to push into the consumer EV market in earnest. In the same interview, she even mentioned that she sees the possibility of BYD being tapped as a potential battery supplier for Tesla in the future. Interesting times, indeed.
After getting over the increased range and the possibilities it opened up, I focused more on the drive and the feel of the car. The acceleration of the e6 stands out from other EVs, and not in a good way. It’s not slow but it definitely doesn’t have the typical peppy response of most EVs. Additionally, the throttle is capped, which I had not experienced before. Gasmobiles are occasionally speed-governed with a maximum speed but they are not traditionally throttle-limited, which translated into a point in the accelerator pedal travel where the car just stops accelerating faster. In talking about this with BYD, they shared that the e6 had been tuned to minimize wear on the vehicle and to maximize range. This makes sense for a fleet vehicle, but I can’t imagine consumers would appreciate this “feature” unless that gets translated into an “eco” mode that consumers can opt into or, more importantly, out of. On the upside, that enables the insane range that these cars consistently deliver and, to be honest, their #1 selling point.
The size of the e6 was very healthy — on par with many of the crossover SUVs that are so popular here in Southern California. The interior was not overly sexy but rather fairly utilitarian with displays and information that give drivers what they need and put the important details front and center.
Overall, I was impressed with the range of the e6, the value equation of the 2016 model, the interior features and space and, yes, even the drive feel. I can see how this car would be insanely attractive to fleet buyers and even to a few consumers who are willing to pay a bit more for the extra range. It’s no model X, but many people can’t afford the $75,000–140,000 for a Model X, and the e6 could fill that gap for many folks. I’m excited to see what the 2016 looks like in person, and more than that, for the day when BYD makes a full-fledged push into the consumer EV space.
I’ll leave you with a few pics of the BYD e6s.