• Mar 10, 2011
2009 BYD F3DM – Click above for high-res image gallery

Are Chinese cars nothing more than cheap copies of other automaker's products in other parts of the world? That's a question that's been asked rather widely for the last several years as the numbers of large Chinese automakers has risen dramatically, and even more so as they have shown their wares at major auto shows outside their home country.

There is certainly no doubt that many, if not most, cars rolling out of factories in China bear a striking exterior resemblance to popular models from Japan, Europe and the United States. But do those exterior facsimiles go more than skin deep, and if so, does it matter? What about the actual guts of the vehicles – are Chinese automakers creating their own important new technologies, especially in the burgeoning eco-friendly segment?

These are the questions bandied about in a special report from Reuters, targeted specifically in the direction of BYD, the Chinese automaker that has been buoyed by major investments and backed by Warren Buffett. The big draw for Buffett and his money was BYD's proprietary battery technology, which it uses on its own branded electric cars, some of which are supposedly coming to America.

Reuters, though, citing documents it received by a third party from WikiLeaks, charges that BYD's battery tech may not be all its cracked up to be, and that sales of its EVs are painfully slow. Further, officials such as Guanzhou Consul-General Brian Goldbeck reportedly said two years ago that BYD's vehicles may pass China's lax copyright laws, but aren't likely to in other countries.

Just as damningly, unnamed consultants claim BYD's vehicles are very unlikely to pass U.S. safety standards, saying of one of BYD's models, "If you shut the doors too hard, they fall off." Removable doors... not good. Some automakers polled by Reuters claim that BYD requests just enough parts from reputable suppliers to reverse engineer the designs and then assemble them itself using inferior materials.

What all of this means for BYD and for Warren Buffett's billion-dollar investment into the company remains to be seen, but it can hardly bode well for the brand's chances in such competitive markets as the United States.



[Source: Reuters]


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  • 44 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      I hardly think his buying a 10% stake in a company is enough to call it "Buffett's BYD."
      • 3 Years Ago
      I wonder whether Buffett will sell his stake in BYD.
      • 3 Years Ago
      WikiLeaks can Leak my balls
        • 3 Years Ago
        that's gonna hurt bro
      • 3 Years Ago
      That BYD F23M looks like a Corolla knockoff. Just another FWD generic. Nothing of significance.
      • 3 Years Ago
      None of this stuff would be surprising to me.

      The big savings in China is in labor. And unlike in cell phones, the amount of labor in making a car is low enough that no company like BYD should be able to duplicate something like the Volt for 1/2 the price unless they are cutting corners or just stealing designs.
      • 3 Years Ago
      What I can't get my head around is how a country with a worldwide reputation (stereotype??) for having some of the top engineering minds could allow themselves to be disgraced building knock-off designs to appalling standards. In theory China should be able to produce world-class cars with distinctive designs that would give their designers/engineers the same sort of nationalistic pride you see with european/american/japanese/korean/etc manufacturers... So what is holding China back?
      • 3 Years Ago
      As for BYD's battery, the battery itself is stolen from A123 but not all of it, making it a 80% copy but with terrible quality.

      This is why battery industry insiders considered BYD to be a non-player in the EV scene, because BYD's battery just isn't durable enough for EV use.

      EV battery war is to be fought entirely between Japanese and Korean battery makers, with no room for Chinese and American venders.
        • 3 Years Ago
        You do know that A123 is American right?
        • 3 Years Ago
        I would like to see some hard evidence that BYD copied A123's technology, the most vocal proponent for such claim is actually hypermiler. AFAIK A123 is actually a partner of SAIC, a much more powerful player in the Chinese market, if A123 suspects any infringement from BYD, it will bring it up to SAIC, whom has no problem through BYD under the bus to reduce competition. As for the claim that the door will fall off when it's slammed, I think the "unnamed consultant," is simply exaggerating, that's the beauty of wikileaks, no accountability. Having said all that, I don't think it should surprise anyone that BYD's electric car sales are slow, it's not the "in" thing in China. I think Green Automobile with its Zoyte partner will follow BYD's path.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I wonder what the meetings with Geely and Volvo are like. The Volvo engineers must be ready to explode.
      It will be interesting to see if they can drag Chinese cars to a reasonable standard.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Good point--- They may end up missing Dearborn, after all.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The car looks exactly like an badly outdated Corolla knock out.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Still, that was the "good" Corolla
        • 3 Years Ago
        Knock off, dammit, lol! Iphone autocorrect? hehehe!
      • 3 Years Ago
      China makes substandard cars. Come on W'eaks, how about digging up some something we didn't already know...
      • 3 Years Ago
      So, does Toyota have any legal recourse for this blantant Corolla ripoff or are they SOL due to China copyright laws?
      • 3 Years Ago
      haha, having seen the F3DM show car at Detroit, I totally understand where they're coming from. We'd already heard about volume issues, but quality's never really been discussed because it was always assumed to be bad. I can confirm that it is indeed as bad as it's thought to be, I've never seen leather go awry so damn quickly.
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