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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Made in China

Air Date: Week of

The BYD, or Build Your Dream car, made its debut at the Detroit auto show.

A Chinese car company recently began selling a plug-in hybrid electric car in China. Paul Scott of Plug in America tells host Steve Curwood that it will still be at least two years before automakers have similar technology in the United States.


CURWOOD: BYD is making a big splash at this year’s Detroit Auto Show. The Chinese car company is showcasing its plug-in electric hybrid that it sells domestically in China. BYD – which stands for Build Your Dream - hopes to soon sell the cars in Europe and the United States where you still can’t buy a plug- in hybrid. Here to give us an update on electric and plug-in hybrid cars is Paul Scott.

He is a board member of Plug In America, a non-profit group that’s keeping the electric car dream alive in the United States. Welcome to the show, Paul Scott.

SCOTT: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: There are many people who are waiting for an all electric or plug-in hybrid car here in the United States, so if you're in China today, you can get a BYD, get a plug-in hybrid, but we won't get them here in the United States for – what – another year or two. Why all the delay?

SCOTT: Yeah, a lot of it has to do with the carmakers passed laws years ago to make it difficult for foreign companies to come in to the United States. It's good in that the cars sold in the United States are very, very safe. But it does present a barrier to coming in and selling here. So the BYD people are selling their vehicle in China right now, but in order to pass all of our regulations, they're gonna have to rebuild it a little bit, make it stronger and so forth, so it can withstand the crash testing.

CURWOOD: Over these next few years, we have the price range of what - $22,000 that the Chinese BYD is being sold for. The Chevy Volt is apparently going to go for 40 K when it hits the market, and of course, there's the Tesla at 100,000. What prices do you expect from the other manufacturers working on electric cars?

SCOTT: It'll range. For pure electric cars, for instance a City Car, which is a small maybe smart sized car, pure battery electric version of that with a 100-mile range, should sell for around 25 or 30. That's a very reasonable price when you consider the cost of operation is very, very low. Now you have no tune-ups, no maintenance whatsoever on these vehicles, and the price of electricity nationally is about 10.4 cents per kilowatt hour. So that's about equivalent to buy gas at about 75 or 80 cents a gallon.

The BYD, or Build Your Dream car, made its debut at the Detroit auto show.

CURWOOD: By the way, Paul, just a little primer for us on power for these electric vehicles. How will the average person be able to recharge their cars and what capacity do we have to recharge cars here in America?

SCOTT: The capacity is pretty substantial. You know, we have to build electric load capacity to meet peak loads during the day, and so there's all this excess capacity at night that goes unused. And there's enough there to recharge 73% of the American fleet, which is something north of 180 million vehicles. And that we could do today without adding any capacity to the grid.

CURWOOD: So what other companies and countries are you keeping your eye on? Who do you think will really be able to deliver plug-in hybrids over the next year or two and how soon will we get all electric cars and where?

SCOTT: I would say Toyota is certainly the one to watch on the plug-in hybrid side, along with the Chevy Volt from GM. There are others, certainly Mitsubishi, Nissan and Volvo. A lot of the German car makers are starting to get into plug-in hybrids as well, Volkswagon certainly. So I think you're gonna see a whole lot of them in two to three years. But in the next year, probably no plug-in hybrids in the U.S. I think it's gonna be at least two years before we see them here.

CURWOOD: And now what about all electric cars, how soon will we see those here in the U.S.?

SCOTT: A bit sooner because they're a simpler car to make.

CURWOOD: Really?

SCOTT: Oh yeah. Yeah. There's no joining up an internal combustion engine and trying to make all that work together. You put a motor, controller and batteries in a car and it goes. We had battery electric cars back in 1890s, so you know, a person born before the Civil War could have driven a battery electric car. And so you're gonna have those, I think, on the market within twelve months and possibly much sooner than that.

CURWOOD: Is there in existence anywhere an EV1 that escaped the crusher?

SCOTT: [Laughs] Yes, there is. The story is – and I've got this on pretty good authority – that a woman was told to bring her car in to the dealership. She did so, went in, and was told “oh, our records show we already have this car.” So she got back in and drove away. And that car is in Southern California from what I understand. I don't know who it is – I honestly don't, but I wish them well, because that's a million dollar vehicle at this point.

CURWOOD: Paul Scott is a member of the board of directors of Plug In America and a driver of an all electric car and an all electric motorcycle. Thank you sir.

SCOTT: Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: Just ahead: America’s conservation philanthropists. Put your money on Living on Earth.



Plug in America

North American International Auto Show in Detroit


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