This article was inspired by the recent YouTube video above by a relatively new channel called the Electric Viking. This channel from Australia has only been around 6 months and I’ve only been following them for a month or so, but they have some of the best English language coverage of the electric vehicle market in China that I know about! I highly recommend you check them out if you are interested in Chinese EVs, and if you aren’t interested in Chinese EVs, you should be because you can learn a lot about the global EV market even if you have no interest in China. In this article, I’m going to tell you why I’m so excited about the BYD Dolphin and give you quality links if you want to learn more
BYD EA1 (Dolphin): Why It Matters
Technically, it’s not the Dolphin, it is the BYD EA1, but I dislike that name, so I’m going to use the nickname Dolphin for the rest of the article. The reason I think this car matters is that it could be a car that is a “game changer” like the Volkswagen Beetle was last century and the Tesla Model 3 and Y are today. I don’t know all the reasons the Beetle was so popular, but I think it was a combination of being a reliable and affordable car with a very distinctive look. These days, it is harder to have a unique look, since aerodynamics pushes every car to look somewhat similar, but the world is always looking for a reliable and affordable car. Of course at CleanTechnica, we are mostly interested in electric cars, since we know are be much more sustainable than gas cars.
What does the BYD have going for it?
- The car uses the Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) battery chemistry that isn’t only about 30% cheaper, but also uses materials that are more available in large volumes. With all the auto manufacturers in the world suddenly planning electric vehicles, there may be a shortage of nickel and cobalt used to make batteries. Lithium may still be a little hard to get in huge quantities, but iron and phosphate are common and are mined and refined in huge volumes, so these shouldn’t be a problem. We wrote more on BYD’s plans here. We recently wrote about how Tesla is also moving to LFP batteries for the standard range Model 3 & Model Y.
- The Dolphin is the first car to use BYD’s new “e-platform 3.0” electric vehicle architecture using BYD’s Blade battery pack that is similar to Tesla’s structural battery pack. It isn’t just called the Dolphin, it uses a new design language called “Marine Aesthetics.” It’s not as distinctive as the VW Beetle, but it does have a recognizable look and I like it.
- It doesn’t remind me of a golf cart in any way. I love the Wuling Mini EV, its sub-$4,000 starting price, and the ad campaign here and here shows some impressive style, but much of the developed world isn’t ready for a car that basic and small. This Dolphin is similar in size to a Golf or Corolla and won’t scare buyers away because of its size.
- It has models with over 200 miles of range and if you need more that, it uses an leading edge 800-volt charging system that will deliver power to the battery as fast as it can accept it. BYD claims it can charge from 30% to 80% charge in 30 minutes, which isn’t as fast as some competitors, but is great in this price range and will only get better over time. Future models might even get to 300 miles of range.
- BYD is a serious company and not some new startup. BYD was founded in 1995 as a battery maker and has been making cars (gas, hybrid, and battery electric) since 2003. Last year, it sold 426,972 vehicles (a few less than Tesla), 44% of which were electric (189,689). I first heard of BYD in 2008 when legendary investor Warren Buffet invested $232 million in the company. At that time, I thought BYD would sell cars in the US soon. It does sell vehicles in 50 countries and it sells electric buses in the US, but it hasn’t started selling cars here yet. The Dolphin might be the car the company brings to the US. On the other hand, there might be so much demand in markets it already sells cars in that it won’t have any production available for the US.
- The elephant in the room is the price. Making this car available for pre-order a few days ago at under 100,000 yuan (under $15,000) for a modern electric car is an impressive feat. This will open up the electric market to many people that have been waiting for EVs to become affordable. BYD’s estimated battery cost of under $100/kWh makes it one of the first EVs that is comparable to gas cars, not just on a total cost of ownership basis, but a purchase price basis.
- The BYD blade battery pack has set new standards in battery safety. BYD intentionally abused a blade battery by driving a nail into the battery, bending it, crushing it, heating it to 570 degrees Fahrenheit and overcharging it by 260%. After all this abuse, the battery didn’t catch fire or explode. Even though electric cars are less likely to catch fire than gasoline car fires, unfortunately the average person I meet thinks the opposite, due the media sensationalizing EV fires and ignoring gas car fires.
- The battery is rated to last for 1.2 million kilometers or 745 thousand miles, far more than a comparable gas car would last.
- The car has modern electronic platform with a 12.8-inch center screen and NFC-based mobile key.
I purchased my first electric car, a Nissan Leaf with 70 miles of range, in 2011 for over $40,000. This car is similar in size, has 2 to 3 times the range, and has the ability to quickly charge, for less than half the price. This car would be successful in the US if BYD would bring it, but I’m afraid the company will find so much demand in the 50 markets it already sells cars in that it won’t export them to US for quite a while, if ever. As I speak to people about buying an electric car, the 3 biggest objections are purchase price, range, and charging. Nobody is going to complain about this car’s price, and people that want to go electric will be happy with the range and charging speed. There will still be people that want 500 miles of range and charging in 5 minutes, and this car won’t satisfy those people, but I’m confident there are millions of people ready to buy their first EV that are willing to make small compromises in range and charge time to make that leap forward.
Disclosure: I am a shareholder in Tesla [TSLA], BYD [BYDDY], Nio [NIO], and Xpeng [XPEV]. But I offer no investment advice of any sort here.