Now that the 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt have reached showrooms--a handful of them, anyhow--a new crop of electric vehicles will launch into the market for 2011.

One of those may be the e6 all-electric crossover built by Chinese manufacturer BYD. Famed financier Warren Buffet was so intrigued by the upstart battery maker-turned-auto manufacturer that he bought 10 percent of the company two years ago, instantly catapulting it into the harsh glare of global coverage.

Since then, the company has made and broken a string of deadlines for when it would launch its e6 into the U.S. market. In August 2009 it said it would enter the U.S. market in 2010, as it had claimed it would do the year before.  In January, it expanded on its plans, saying it might bring R&D and even lithium-ion cell production to the U.S. as well.

Huge e6 battery pack

Now, it will show the latest iteration of the electric crossover, now known as the 2012 BYD e6 Premier, at next month's 2011 Detroit Auto Show.

The e6, a midsize crossover packaged somewhat like a Ford Edge, uses a huge 72-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack for which BYD claims a range of 186 miles.The cells inside use BYD's own iron-phosphate technology, a slightly different lithium-ion chemistry to those used by the Volt and the Leaf.

BYD says the pack can be recharged in a mere 40 minutes using a powerful 100-kilowatt charger at high voltage, or six hours using standard household 240-Volt wall power.

Previous versions offered front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, with the latter provided by an electric motor on each axle. The e6 crossover has a top speed of 87 mph, and seats five.

The revised version shown next month is expected to be better built, and come with more standard features, than the one that BYD showed in Detroit last year and in 2009.

BYD, at Detroit auto show

BYD, at Detroit auto show

Brand-new plug-in hybrid

BYD will also show a brand-new plug-in hybrid sedan, the S6DM. Like the Chevy Volt, the new S6DM has both a battery pack that can propel in the car in all-electric mode and a gasoline engine. BYD claims a range of 38 miles on electric power, plus roughly 300 more once the gasoline engine kicks in.

But unlike the Volt's largely electric drive, the S6DM uses a through-the-road hybrid design in which a 75-kilowatt electric motor powers the rear wheels, while the fronts are driven by a combination of a much smaller 10-kW motor and the 2-liter gasoline engine.

byd auto f3dm plug in hybrid 08

byd auto f3dm plug in hybrid 08


Older F3DM

Along with the new S6DM, BYD will show another plug-in hybrid, the F3DM. This is a car it has shown before, and it was the world's first plug-in hybrid to go on sale commercially, back in December 2008. That car hasn't sold well, but it remains one of BYD's calling cards.

Recently, the Housing Authority of Los Angeles leased 10 of the plug-in hybrids, allowing BYD to gather data on real-world usage of the cars.

The gasoline version of the F3 has been China's single best-selling car, although it is now losing ground to newer vehicles, including those from Western brands. Its appearance--very much like an eight-year-old Toyota Corolla--reveals BYD's approach to design: It tends to copy other makers' products.

The e6, however, is a more original design.

byd auto f3dm plug in hybrid 05

byd auto f3dm plug in hybrid 05


Buses and panels and storage, oh my

BYD's fourth electric-drive vehicle will be its K9 transit bus, which features a lithium-ion battery pack that powers in-wheel motors for a range of 150 miles on a full charge.

This year marks BYD's fourth consecutive appearance at the Detroit Auto Show. This year, it also plans to show off its solar panels, units for home energy storage, and various other green technology offerings in an exhibit it's calling "Green City Solutions."

[Detroit News]