One of the stars of the Chinese automotive industry is Shenzen-based BYD, which although only sixth largest of the Chinese manufacturers, had the country's top selling individual vehicle last year in the form of the BYD F3 (a Toyota Corolla E120 clone).

Now, after substantive testing of its e6 all-electric model in taxi and company fleets, the five-seater 75 kW, 87 mph crossover has gone on sale to the Chinese public, with a (claimed) range of 300 km (186 miles), which would give it the longest range of any EV in the world at present.

If you've never heard of BYD before, you may be surprised to find you are probably already using the company's products - the company began as a manufacturer of rechargeable batteries and its batteries power more than half the mobile phones in the world and fair chunk of the laptops. Another part of the company makes mobile phones for some of the world's best known brands, such as Nokia and Motorola.

Hence it's intriguing that the e6 does NOT use Lithium Ion batteries as do most EV manufacturers, but its own independently developed Iron-Phosphate batteries. Though having only half to two-thirds of the energy density of Li-ion batteries, BYD's Fe battery is claimed to be safer and less harmful to the environment, as it contains no toxic electroytes or heavy metals. It also comes with 10-year warranty and a claimed life of 6000 charging cycles.

Most significantly, the batteries offer greater flexibility of charging solutions for consumers, who can use rapid-charging stations or recharge overnight from the grid using a special charging cabinet which will be installed by China Southern Grid, one of China's largest utility companies in China.

As the BYD automotive company is the child of a battery manufacturer, it is a frontrunner in China's Government-subsidised EV revolution, having launched a dual-mode hybrid on the market in 2008 in the form of the BYD F3DM.

The F3DM was in fact the world's first mass produced plug-in hybrid and had an electric range of 40-60 miles (65 - 100 km) and a quite innovative range extender (using a three-cylinder 1000cc petrol engine for power) that added 300 miles (480 km) to its distance between recharging/refueling.

Last September (2010), BYD began manufacturing a 40ft (12M), long-range, all-electric bus and as China has no alternative but to go the way of electric vehicles (it will choke on its own exhaust fumes if it doesn't), BYD is perfectly positioned to reap the rewards. Indeed, we're not the only one to think that - legendary investor Warren Buffet (via his investment company Berkshire Hathaway) spent US$230 million buying 10% of BYD three years ago.

The e6 comes with a newly developed system dubbed the "BYD-i" which is an in-vehicle, network platform to facilitate what BYD calls the "next generation car-networking infrastructure".

BYD-i uses the driver's docked smartphone connect to the internet and comes with a whole range of services, including to lock and unlock car doors with your phone (even remotely), turn on the air-conditioning a few minutes before driving, a slew of location-based services (using the phone's GPS), search for news, or real-time information (such as stocks, flights, hotel bookings, disaster information, weather ad infinitum), or to communicate directly with a service call center in the case of an accident.

BYD-i is also the centre of the car's entertainment system (DVD, radio, and Mobile Digital TV), it's Voice Navigation System, and the Rear Camera Parking Assistance.

The five-seater will cost Chinese consumers US$38,430 (RMB249,800), though that's after a substantial government subsidy of US$18,000 (RMB120,000), so the unsubsidized price of the e6 begins at US$56,900 (RMB369,800).

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