Opposites, it’s said, attract. And automakers don’t come much more opposite than Daimler AG and BYD. Daimler is the parent to such prestigious brands as Maybach and Mercedes-Benz, and is known the world over for building fine and durable automobiles.
BYD, on the other hand, is best known for missing deadlines, delaying launches and, possibly, ignoring patent law. Even in its home market of China, the maker of the Corolla clone F3--China's most popular car--is hardly seen as a desirable brand.
Why, then, would Daimler partner with BYD to deliver co-branded products to the Chinese market? As our own Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield explains, it’s a marriage of necessity; Daimler needs an electric vehicle partner in China, and BYD needs the credibility of a Daimler co-brand.
According to Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, the design of the electric car the companies are working on is now “frozen,” with initial prototypes due next April. That means the joint venture project is on track, although Zetsche admits that the relationship with BYD hasn’t been what it first seemed.
As Zetsche explained to InsideLine, BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu seemed like a man “who could walk on water--which he can’t.” Zetsche also said that BYD’s “revolutionary” battery technology simply didn’t exist, which forced Mercedes to do most of the development work itself on the pair's upcoming Chinese-market electric car.
Still, Zetsche reiterated, “We’re very confident about this company,” largely due to the support BYD has received from the Chinese government. For now, domestically produced electric vehicles are eligible for a $9,200 subsidy from the Chinese government, which can be backed by another $9,200 subsidy from one of five major Chinese cities.
That currently makes electric cars a low-cost option in China, but there’s evidence to suggest that support for electric-car subsidies in China may be waning. That doesn’t phase Zetsche, who sees the relationship with BYD as a long-term one, saying, “it’s short-sighted to go to China, make money and run.”
While the U.S. won’t see the fruits of Daimler and BYD’s labors, we will see a BYD e6 electric car in the near future. There’s talk that the crossover will cost $35,000 in the U.S. market and offer a 200-mile range, but don’t expect to see such a creature before mid-2012...at the earliest.