BYD Plug-in Hybrid Sales Wallow in the Hundreds

For China’s BYD, the Warren Buffett-backed battery company turned automaker, hybrid sales have been anything but brisk this year. Since launching its F3DM plug-in hybrid model in December 2008, BYD has sold “several hundred” of the vehicles, according to a Reuters report on Tuesday. That’s up from only 80 F3DM sales through April of this year, and less than 100 as of August.

But while the pace has apparently picked up in the latter half of 2009, the model has come in well below the company’s ambitious sales targets — BYD originally aimed to sellĀ 10,000 of the plug-in hybrids in 2009, and this fall reportedly scaled back to a goalĀ of 3,000-4,000 units for the year.

BYD’s lower-than-expected F3DM hybrid sales this year contrast with sales of the gasoline version of the sedan, a best-seller on the Chinese market. They also contrast with how the automaker’s lineup fared overall. Paul Lin, manager of BYD’s marketing department tells Reuters today, “The company already reached its 2009 target of 400,000 vehicles in November, so now we are setting our 2010 target to double that number at 800,000 units.”

In all, BYD says it expects to sell about 440,000 vehicles this year. Lin said he expects growing consumer demand in China and government efforts to boost car sales as part of the country’s 4 trillion yuan (about $586 billion) economic stimulus package to help drive a boom for its auto business next year.

So far BYD has focused on fleet buyers (often the Chinese government or state-owned companies) for its plug-in model, rather than the consumer market where it expects to see growth for other models in 2010. As recently as this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the F3DM plug-in hybrid had “yet to appear in any dealership, leading industry observers to speculate its battery is not ready for prime time.”

BYD faces a number of challenges with the plug-in hybrid F3DM, but the price tag looms large. The F3DM goes for about 150,000 yuan, or nearly $22,000, which is more than twice the price of the gas version. The Toyota Prius costs nearly twice as much as BYD’s plug-in hybrid, but as Green Car Reports points out, it has not sold well in China. BYD has said it aims to bring that price down to about $16,000 through higher production volumes, helped along by U.S. and EU buyers.

More domestic competition for the F3DM hybrid is already on the way, with Chery Automobile planning to launch three electric vehicles and two hybrids for the Chinese market by early 2010, including an approximately $14,600 plug-in hybrid. But BYD is charging ahead to grab a slice of the plug-in vehicle market, both at home and abroad.

The company said earlier this month it’s eying the Los Angeles, Calif. region as a lead market for its planned 2010 launch of the all-electric e6 (the company’s first U.S. offering), and today Lin said BYD remains on track to start selling the all-electric e6 in China in the first quarter or 2010.