Dr Alan Moran advises to take a look at the car from the biggest motor firm you’ve never heard of
Until this year I had never heard of BYD, despite it being China’s biggest electric car manufacturer. Apparently, it came to fame when Warren Buffett bought shares in the company, and again, when he started selling them off. Mr Buffett’s investment started at the same time as they launched the world’s first petrol-hybrid electric vehicle in 2008.
Anyway, BYD stands for ‘Build Your Dreams’. Medics have a habit of using initials to make one word, like PET scan, CAT scan, or ECHO. So, it is easy to see why most people would think of BYD as “Bid”, as I did. However, it’s pronounced B-Y-D, as in BMW.
Believe it or not, BYD started in 1995 as a battery manufacturer. It has been so successful, it is estimated that, at one stage or another, we have used a mobile phone with one of their batteries. It started back then with 20 employees; it has 600,000 now. That’s nearly as much as Volkswagen (VW).
Although BYD had diversified into internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, they didn’t sell very well or become famous outside China. It has since stopped producing ICE cars completely, concentrating instead on electric cars, as they know it is a growing market.
Among the 600,000 employees are 49,000 engineers. BYD has over 38,000 patent applications with 26,000 authorised patents. It has a €50 billion annual revenue, and it is anticipated that it will overtake VW.
Another impressive feature of the BYD company is that not only is all the design done in-house, so is the manufacturing of the batteries (of course), the chips, the heat pumps (standard, important in our “temperate” climate), and the motors. So, no delays to the order of your new BYD due to “chip shortages”. The man in charge of design is none other than Wolfgang Egger, previously of both Audi and Alfa Romeo.
Its innovations include what is called a ‘blade’ battery. Apparently, this has higher energy density and is safer than others on the famous nail penetration testing, meaning it won’t go on fire when penetrated by the likes of a nail. And importantly it is cobalt-free.
The Atto 3 is their middle of the road offering, in my opinion. It is their first vehicle to be available in Ireland. Watch this space for more interesting models to come. It is similar in size to the Volvo V40, and 19cm longer than the ID3, but at a lower price. I was impressed with it at the launch and it continued to impress when I took it for a week’s test drive. Although from the outside it doesn’t stir much controversy with its ‘dragon-faced’ design, inside it is lovely. Opinions vary according to who sees it – my sister thought it was lovely, my brother and nephew didn’t like it. The seat material is what we now call ‘vegan leather’ and feels good to the touch, as with a lot of the tactile materials inside. There is a gymnasium theme throughout, with air vents that are supposed to look like weights, and a gear selector that looks like the handle of a kettlebell. I haven’t been to a gym in years and will take their word for this. But I recognise guitars when I see them and there are what look (and sound) like guitar bass strings to hold stuff in the door pockets. Rather like the dimpled gear knob of the Golf GTi of old, I like the lateral design-thinking.
It is well-equipped with a panoramic sunroof, adaptable cruise control, four exterior cameras, electric seats with heating, and lane assist that actually stays off when you switch it off. I also found automatic lights, blind spot detection, and lane assist.
Ride quality is mostly quite comfortable, no doubt helped by the stabilising effect of the weight and the profile of the tyres. Some undulations will catch it out, but they are new to Irish roads and I’d imagine it takes any manufacturer years to come to terms with our unique surfaces. This is no sports car, so I won’t be thinking of track days with it, but it is pleasantly quiet for long and short journeys.
Drive is to the front wheels through a 150KW (204bhp) motor with 300Nm of torque. Enough to get it from stationary to 100kmph in 7.3 seconds, what we’ll call respectable. By the way, even if you lose the run of yourself it has a five-star NCAP rating. It has an official range of 420kms (WLTP combined).
Now, it is a good car with great value, and has the backing of Motor Distributors Ltd as distributor, who have previously brought you VW, Skoda, Toyota, and continue to bring you Mercedes. As they say: “We only bring in quality.”
But I have a niggle or two. There are two screens, one large for the ‘housekeeping’ functions: Air con, navigation, phone system, radio, etc. By the way, it can rotate at the push of a button, but that novelty wears off. Although it dimmed at night, I still found it a bit bright for me. There is a second driver information screen immediately in front of the driver, about the size of your hand. I’m getting older and find that my eyesight, although legal, can’t see a lot of the information on display. My young nephew, who is under 30, could see everything, but I had trouble seeing the outside air temperature and speed settings for the cruise control. It took me two days to see the main beam warning light. The font size was simply too small, the wrong colour, and required too long of a gaze from the road to comprehend the information. Nothing that a few lines of software re-writing could not fix.
But, overall, it is a well-equipped, comfortable, good value offering from the biggest car company you’ve never heard of! Well worth a look. Prices starts at €37,128. And, by the way, more BYD cars have been sold in Ireland than in the UK.