Build Your Dream, or Disaster? Wikileaks, Buffet & Electric Car Woes

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BYD, at Detroit auto show

BYD, at Detroit auto show

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An open policy of reverse engineering, doors that fall off and shady sales practices are hardly the things you’d expect of an automaker trying to make it into the U.S. market.

But as newly surfaced diplomatic cables published on Internet whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks show, the battery firm turned electric vehicle manufacturer backed by multi billionaire Warren Buffet could be guilty of just these transgressions and more.

Copycats?

According to Reuters, which was given access to the leaked documents through a third party, the U.S. government was sent diplomatic cables detailing BYD’s lack of respect for International patent law. One published excerpt, allegedly written by Guanzhou Consul-General Brian Goldbeck reads as follows:

“While BYD has certainly achieved a measure of success based on a business approach of copying and then modifying car designs just enough to convince Chinese courts that the company has not infringed on patents, it is far less certain that foreign courts will be as  sympathetic”

BYD e6 electric crossover, Electric Avenue, 2010 Detroit Auto Show

BYD e6 electric crossover, Electric Avenue, 2010 Detroit Auto Show

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It's hardly news to us. Early last year our own John Voelcker uncovered an article detailing just how open the firm was about its magpie-like tendencies.

It gets worse.

In Reuters’ own investigation, it cites claims from automotive parts companies against BYD in which low volume or sample orders are made for parts, only to be cancelled as soon as BYD has reverse-engineered the part to produce themselves.

Such reverse engineered parts, it is claimed, lack the refinement and quality of the original.

In some circumstances, even safety.

Unsafe?

More worryingly, cables leaked to WikiLeaks detail claims made by BYD about its five-star safety rating for its F0 car, awarded by a Chinese consumer association.  But yet the association have no recollection or record of testing BYD’s car or awarding it the maximum safety award. (For good measure, the F0 is a carbon copy of a car made by Toyota and sold in Europe as the Aygo.)

What do independent safety consultants think? One, wishing to remain anonymous, told Reuters that if doors on BYD’s latest vehicles were closed too hard they may even fall off.

Hardly ready for primetime then?

In the U.S, tougher safety requirements should prevent such malpractices from occurring. But then neither BYD’s e6 all electric car or F3DM plug-in hybrid have been submitted for official National Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests yet.

Last year, BYD publicly announced its e6 electric car was U.S. safety ready, claiming it had passed U.S. safety tests. Of course, the firm failed to disclose which tests were being carried out, or which safety body carried the tests out.  Moreover, we’ve not been able to find out either.

Misdirection?

byd auto f3dm plug in hybrid 03

byd auto f3dm plug in hybrid 03

Enlarge Photo

But the strangest practice outlined by the investigation is the reported badge grafting carried out by unscrupulous BYD franchised dealers.

As part of an attempt to raise profit, it is alleged that dealers selling BYD’s vehicles re-badge BYD clones of more prestigious cars, convincing the buyer that they are buying a genuine car European or Japanese car  and not a cheap Chinese copy.

An Uncomfortable Future

If any of the allegations outlined by Reuters are true, BYD’s future in the U.S. could appear very uncertain.

With no official safety results, only a test fleet of 10 cars in the U.S. and initial test-drives illustrating something of an exaggeration in the BYD F3DM’s range and performance, we’re not sure the all-electric e6 will even get past road worthiness tests.

We’d love to think BYD has made its own car and battery pack from scratch, but given the growing evidence against it at the moment we have to assume BYD is in for a very rough few months or even years.

IS the BYD e6 even coming to the U.S.? Apparently it is, but we’d advise you don’t hold your breath waiting for it yet.

[Reuters]

 
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