This is a complex topic, the world of Electric Vehicles and their slow rise to dominance in Australia. We’re at the very infancy of the market and while brands like Tesla dominate the online chatter and have great brand awareness their dominance in the market will be challenged faster than one could have imagined. This week, we took the all-electric BYD Han for a spin around Sydney and by gosh it’s impressive.
BYD is not a big car company turning to EVs, they’re a brand created for the Electric revolution – much like Tesla, yet their scale and growth didn’t come by chipping away at a mass market like sedans as Tesla did, they’ve been making buses, trucks, forklifts and more – likely for cashflow and research more than anything else.
Their cars to date have been a bit – meh, to be honest, not the kind of car I’d want in my driveway. The BYD models used in Australia in recent years by GM Cabs as Electric Taxis are practical, but not something your mates are going to rush round to get a look at or go for a ride in.
This is where it all changes for BYD – 2021. With leading designers brought together from some of the biggest car brands in Europe and a renewed focus on global expansion they’re putting together a suite of models which will be compelling on three fronts.
- Range – BYD seem to have ticked the same box as Tesla on the product planning roadmap – “Must have long range”.
- Design – these things look the business, at a distance, up close and inside.
- Price – we don’t have Australian pricing yet, but from everything the local team are saying, the BYD range is set to blow the competition out of the water.
Building Brand Credibility
Now what they don’t have yet is brand credibility here in Australia. Sure, MG can go from Zero to hero in a short space of time as a Chinese company selling cars in big numbers in Australia (They’re a top ten car brand now, selling over 3,000 cars in February), but there’s a difference – I think a large number of people buying MGs don’t know they’re Chinese.
Should that matter? No, China as an auto maker is like South Korea was 30 years ago, except their rise from no name brand with just-get-by quality at value prices to exceptional quality cars from a reputable brand will take one third of the time it took Hyundai and Kia.
BYD is talking 700km+ range on their larger models, 500km+ on the smallest model. Those are numbers only Tesla to date has been able to claim, and while in reality it matters little to the daily driver, for many it is the “range anxiety” that keeps buyers away from EVs
How much will a BYD Cost in Australia?
The other, is price. I myself had a deposit down for a Tesla Model 3. Hyped as the affordable EV, it’s absolutely not. I’ve bought BMW’s brand new for less than a Tesla, and while it’s certainly affordable from Tesla’s model range perspective, it’s outrageous to expect an average Aussie family to fork out that much cash for a small sedan.
Likewise, it’s a real early adopter thing to pay $50k for a Hyundai or other EV when the exact same sized car with the same space will cost you $15k less.
This difference in the price between a petrol and electric car is the key marker of EV growth and marketability.
BYD though seem to think they can challenge that.
While none have been revealed yet, the upcoming Shanghai Auto Show this month will see the reveal of several BYD EV cars destined for the Aussie market. The company has three platforms to build on (think small, medium and large) with two models set to sit on each. That’s six new models, all of which will come to Australia.
The first of those will be available for pre-order as soon as the middle of this year, with deliveries starting by early 2022. And it won’t take years for the six models to come, they’ll all be here within 18 months.
That’s aggressive, and exciting.
How though will little old Australia manage to secure supply of these models which will of course be in high demand in the home country as well as other global markets.
BYD Supply for Australia
This is another big point of difference for BYD in Australia. BYD’s Australian partner NEXPORT has secured its own production line at the BYD factory. So while in most markets Auto companies secure supply from a single flow of vehicles, BYD Australia has a guaranteed supply pumping out its own production line.
That also means Australian specific colours, branding and model names. BYD will launch these with a very clear Australian market in mind.
Which brings us to the quality.
Driving the BYD Han in Australia
When I jumped into the BYD Han, a left-hand-drive version of the current generation mid-sized sedan for BYD, I was impressed from the get-go.
A really nice fit and finish, luxurious feeling and a very clear hint of inspiration or moreso from brands like Mercedes in the design and material choices.
The huge centre touchscreen rotates to a Portrait or Landscape setting as you choose, the fully digital instrument cluster is easy to read and there’s clarity around everything from range to consumption, and while I don’t recognise the Audio brand, the quality from the sound system was solid.
I’d need a full day or few before I can really tell you how it drives, but at a first run around city streets it was a joy to drive with no complaints from me.
Large amounts of Chinese characters on buttons and options are off-putting, but this is not the Aussie vehicle, it’s here for testing purposes only.
If BYD Australia can dig deeply into every aspect of the software and ensure the buttons, branding and badges are on spec, this will be every part a European car, but born in Shanghai.
It’s not an easy task, and while the team in Australia are certainly keen and excited, they have a long road ahead.
When prices are announced, Australians are going to be equal parts shocked and skeptical about what BYD is offering. I for one am sold. In one drive, similar to a test-drive you’d take from a dealer, I can see what the brand is capable of, and my next car will be their entry level small car, which I’m pretty certain will be Australia’s most affordable Electric Car when it hits the market.