You don't hear as much worrying these days about the threat of Chinese automakers entering the U.S. market with inexpensive cars.

Nor do you hear concerns over Chinese electric-car makers swamping sales of the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, which have racked up more than 23,300 sales between them since December 2010.

So the fate of the BYD e6 electric crossover--the first Chinese electric car proposed for the U.S. market--has receded from public discussion in recent months.

Lately, the company has focused on a small test fleet with the Los Angeles Housing Authority and its attempts to get the e6 certified for U.S. sale.

Still, BYD says it fully intends to sell cars in the U.S.--but now it will start with fleet sales.

The company told The New York Times that it expects the e6 to go on sale next year, with the earliest sales to fleet buyers that include rental-car companies.

Indeed, Jack Hidary of Hertz told the Times that his company is already offering two BYD e6 electric cars for rental in Shenzhen, China, to gain data on how they operate.

Michael Austin, president of BYD America, added that the Hertz e6 rental program would soon expand to Beijing and Shanghai.

BYD e6-B

BYD e6-B

The BYD e6 is available for retail sale only in Shenzhen, with incentives that give a $19,000 rebate to buyers of the $58,000 electric vehicle. The e6 would likely have to sell for far less if it goes on sale to individual car buyers in the U.S.

The BYD e6 should finish its certification process by the end of this year, Austin said, meaning it would likely go on sale as a 2013 model. But fleets like Hertz come first; consumer sales will begin "when the charging network is further developed."

Austin called the styling, on-road performance, and size of the e6 "all very good."

BYD has made and then missed a series of on-sale deadlines over the past few years.

Two years ago, it claimed the e6 was ready for U.S. safety tests, then it postponed the launch to late last year, then again to mid-2012. To be fair, though, it also took plug-in startups Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive far longer than each company planned to bring their first cars to market as well.

The e6 design has already been revised once, and reviews of the car by the few journalists who've had a chance to drive one a year ago haven't been great.

The domestic Chinese car market surged past the U.S. a few years back to become the world's largest.

Selling cars there is probably easier than redesigning cars to meet U.S. safety and emissions standards, and setting up a sales network to compete for notoriously demanding U.S. buyers, who pay attention to crash safety ratings--and expect flawless reliability no matter what they do to and with their cars.

As always, we look forward to driving a BYD e6 if and when it arrives on the U.S. market for real.


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