BYD e6: China’s biggest EV company is now in Singapore (again)

Vantage Automotive’s new E-Car division is selling the BYD e6 as a passenger car

SINGAPORE — The BYD e6 may be a car you’ve seen before as a taxi, but it’s about to go on sale to the public as one of the country’s cheapest electric vehicles.

Vantage Automotive, the company that handles Ford and Peugeot in Singapore, has set up a new division called E-Auto to handle the Chinese brand. It will officially start selling the e6 on July 19th, for S$133,888 with Certificate Of Entitlement but minus a home charging station.

“I’m yours for S$133,888…”

That makes it cheaper than other mainstream electric cars, such as the Hyundai Kona EV (which starts at S$141,999 with COE), Kia Niro EV (S$183,999 with COE) or Nissan Leaf (S$154,800 with COE). But the e6 is also a slower, heavier car, with a 121 horsepower motor that takes an estimated 14 seconds to launch it to 100km/h from standstill.

Its 80kWh iron phosphate battery pack can power it for around 400km on a single charge, and BYD says it can deliver 4,000 full charge-discharge cycles; far more than 10 years even if you have to fully recharge your BYD every day.

Put another way, the battery should deliver more than 1.5 million km of driving before it’s kaput.

It’s that sort of durability that has found the BYD e6 a natural audience with fleet operators. HDT Taxi uses the car for its cabs and will continue to buy directly from BYD, but Vantage’s E-Auto is now the exclusive dealer here for retail and company buyers.

An associated company, Sime Darby Services, will also be able to lease the cars out or arrange car-sharing for companies that want to make a fleet of EVs available to employees.

E-Auto’s cars will be specced like passenger cars, says Vantage managing director Christopher Chin (below). Unlike the taxi editions, BYDs sold by E-Auto will have features such as plusher upholstery, a touchscreen navigation system and a powered tailgate. They come with carpets instead of rubber mats. “There are some things we’ve added to really make it feel like a passenger car,” he says.

E-Auto sealed its deal with BYD quickly (the two companies only started talks three months ago) and for the time being, the e6 will share showroom space with Vantage’s used car business at 305 Alexandra Road.

By next June, says Mr Chin, the brand will have a standalone showroom on the second floor. A second model will have joined the local line-up by then, as BYD ramps up production of right-hand drive cars.

Mr Chin says Vantage was encouraged to take up the franchise by recent developments such as SP Group’s goal of building 1,000 EV charging points in the country by 2020. He says that, like other EVs, the BYD e6 has much lower running costs than a petrol or diesel equipment — over 10 years, a driver who travels 20,000km a year could save up to S$30,000, he estimates.

Expect a touchscreen satnav infotainment setup instead of the plain sound system you see here

The year has been a busy one for EVs here, with Jaguar, Kia and Nissan entering the market and Audi set to follow. In April, China’s Geely held the global launch of its Geometry EV sub-brand in Singapore, while announcing that it had signed its first distributors, including Hong Seh Motors for our market.

Meet Geometry. The rest of the world did, in April

Despite that, EVs have yet to take off in a big way among everyday consumers. Yet, Vantage is prepared to play the long game with BYD, says Mr Chin, and would rather be ahead of the growth curve than behind it. “If electrification really takes off well in Singapore, things could grow exponentially,” he says.

Mr Chin says he hopes Vantage will drive BYD’s sale to match Ford’s, at around 300 cars a year. The company regularly achieved that with the American brand until the Vehicular Emissions Scheme came into force last year, and added hefty surcharges to its cars.

Vantage isn’t replacing Ford with BYD, says Mr Chin, but there is a certain sense of symmetry to both brands’ stories. The Ford Model T introduced petrol-powered cars to the mass market more than a hundred years ago. Could BYD do the same for battery-powered cars here?

Who is BYD?

Other carmakers receive kudos for their eco efforts, but BYD is a huge player in the EV business. It has around a fifth of the China market, where more battery powered cars are sold than anywhere else on Earth.

That success has made it a winning bet, especially for early backers. Legendary investor Warren Buffett bought a US$232m (S$316m) stake in 2009 (two years before Tesla’s floatation) and has seen its value rise above US$1 billion, although a recent pullback now prices his investment at around US$900m.

In the first six months of 2019, the company sold 95,779 pure-electric vehicles — three times more than in the same period a year ago.

BYD also sold 44,982 plug-in hybrids and another 82,419 fuel-powered vehicles, along with 4,892 commercial vehicles. Unlike Tesla, it’s steadily profitable.

But the company’s roots are in electric power. It started out by building powerpacks for cellphones in the 1990s, before adding powertool and laptop manufacturers to its list of battery-hungry clients.

If you think of EVs as being mostly battery packs with wheels, a motor and a passenger compartment attached, then there might not be a car company better placed to master EVs than BYD.

about the author

Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.