After decades of fits and starts, electric cars look like they’re here to stay. The Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf and several others have found a solid foothold in the marketplace, and sales are increasing every year.
And now an automaker from China is trying to take advantage of that trend as it aims to become the first Chinese brand to sell cars in the United States.
BYD, which stands for “Build Your Dreams,” has introduced its e6 battery-powered crossover to the streets of Chicago, though it isn’t being sold to the general public yet. Instead, BYD has struck a deal with the Uber car service to let its drivers lease the cars for a week at a time.
Uber has about two dozen e6 vehicles on the Windy City’s roads right now, and many more are planned.
“It’s a very smooth ride,” said one driver who responded to a random e-hail from Fox News and asked to remain anonymous. “I notice how quiet it is. It’s kinda like floating.”
While few Americans have heard of the e6, the vehicle is already on the road in Asia, Europe and South America.
“It wasn’t approved for the U.S. market until last year,” said Doug Snower, owner and president of Green Wheels USA, which has teamed up with BYD to distribute the car.
What makes the e6 unique is that it is “the first purpose-built, pure electric long-range taxi in the world markets,” said Micheal Austin, vice president of BYD America.
The e6 has a range of 127 miles per charge, according to the EPA. That compares to 84 miles for the Nissan Leaf, which is being tested for taxi use in New York City.
“It is also the first electric vehicle with an entirely environmentally stable and inert battery chemistry,” Austin said. “There are no heavy metals or caustic materials used in the manufacturing of the BYD iron-phosphate battery.”
Ultimately, BYD’s plan is to sell a full line of electric cars to the general public. Its next effort will be to work with Green Wheels USA to increase the number of charging stations available.
And its timing could be perfect, since the cost of owning an electric car may soon go down. Rechargeable batteries are decreasing in price each year, and BYD is one of the world’s largest manufacturers.
So could BYD’s electric car technology eventually make gas-powered cars obsolete? Though BYD still primarily produces internal combustion engine cars in China, Austin thinks so.
“Internal combustion autos are dead,” he said. “Petroleum is a finite fuel source.”
Oil analyst Phil Flynn agrees. “Once the infrastructure is there,” he said, “there’s going to be great demand for them.”
But for now, if you want to take a ride in a BYD e6, you’ll have to tap the Uber app on your smartphone. Chances are that was made in China, too.