Chinese car giant BYD to launch in the UK this year

24 Aug 2022

Chinese car giant BYD has stepped up its expansion into Europe with a revamped line-up of three electric cars – and plans to launch in the UK imminently.

The firm started offering the BYD Tang large SUV in Norway last August, and the success of that project has now led to it ramping up its plans. In autumn this year, the firm will also start to offer models in countries including the Netherlands, Sweden and Israel.

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BYD says that the ‘initial phase’ of its European launch will focus on Benelux and Nordic markets where EV take-up is particularly high.

Notably, the firm is also gearing up to expand into the UK before the end of this year with the new BYD Atto 3, a mid-size SUV that's built on a new bespoke electric platform. The UK will only get that model initially because it is being engineered and built in right-hand drive. 

Of course, BYD is already active in the UK: the firm has teamed up with Alexander Dennis to produce electric buses, which are already in use in numerous towns and cities. In particular, if you’ve been on an electric bus in London the chances are it’s a BYD machine assembled by Alexander Dennis.

How Alexander Dennis is leading the UK's electric bus charge

The firm will have a range of three electric cars in Europe. Alongside the existing Tang will be joined by the Han, a ‘sleek and sporty’ performance saloon with twin motors that produces 380kW, and the most significant of all: the new Atto 3, an MG ZS EV-rivalling SUV that is built on a new bespoke electric platform and is designed with a focus on the European market. The firm has yet to announce pricing details.

There’s a lot to take in about BYD – but this is very definitely one Chinese manufacturer you should pay attention to. So here’s what you need to know about the firm’s European expansion.

What is a BYD anyway?

BYD – it stands for Build Your Dreams, apparently – was founded in 1995 and operates in automotive, electronics, new energy and rail. It’s listed on the stock exchanges in both Shenzen, China and Hong Kong, BYD says it has around 290,000 employees – including 40,000 engineers – working across more than 30 industrial sites.

BYD’s automobile business covers passenger cars, commercial vehicles such, buses, taxis and even forklifts. A leading manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries, BYD started making cars in 2003 and launched its first model two years later. As a bit of random trivia, during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 BYD even became the world’s leading manufacturer of face masks.

But BYD isn't just known for producing a lot of face masks: it's also sold quite a lot of cars. It has been China's best-selling manufacturer of New Energy Vehicles (basically plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles) for the past nine years – and has sold 638,157 so far this year alone. It has also recently stopped production of its combustion engined cars to go all-in on EVs.

Now, BYD isn't entirely new to the UK. As well as its electric buses, the firm did briefly offer the e3 electric car over here, although it was largely a compliance machine that was sold in very small number to fleet operators.

BYD really started out as a battery firm, and a lot of its effort is still focused on that area. The firm's bosses also talk about how it can offer a 'vertical' automotive supply chain: that basically means it sources its own battery materials, builds its own batteries and electric motors – and even has in-house semiconductor production. If you've heard about how much a semiconductor shortage is hitting the car industry, you can imagine how useful that is.

A key part of BYD’s focus has been on developing battery technology. In 2020 it launched its high-tech Blade battery, which uses new technology and design elements.

What’s so special about the Blade battery?

The Blade battery, which is used by all three of BYD’s European line-up, features lithium iron-phosphate (LFP) as its cathode material, which is claims is safer that conventional lithium-ion batteries due to its greater thermal stability. It’s also cobalt-free and, claims BYD, offers an “ultra-long range and ultra-long lifespan”. 

The firm claims the battery also offers improved space utilisation, thanks to improved energy density that means more batteries can be fitted into a compact space. Essentially, while most EV battery packs feature cells grouped into modules, the Blade battery goes without the modules. That means there's more space to fit in more energy storage material in the space, meaning more of the physical battery is actually used for energy storage.

BYD has attempted to showcase the safety of the Blade battery with a ’nail prevention test’: yes, it basically hammered a nail into the side of it to see what would happen. When it did that BYD claims the battery didn’t emit any smoke or fire, and reached temperatures of 30-60C. 

Tell me more about BYD’s cars…

While BYD’s cars are designed and built in China, there’s plenty of European influence behind then. Wolfgang Egger, who previously worked for Audi, Lamborghini and Alfa Romeo, heads the firm’s design team in Shenzen.

The firm says it is aiming at an 'affordable premium' market – so think of rivalling the likes of Volkswagen, Audi and Tesla.

The Han and Tang are named after Chinese dynasties as part of BYD’s ‘dynasty series’ of vehicles. The Atto 3 is actually called the Yuan in China, although it’s been renamed for international markets. Apparently it’s named after an attosecond, which is one quintillionth of a second. 

The BYD Tang is already on sale in Norway, where it’s one of the best-selling large SUVs on the market. It’s 4870mm long – that’s about 100mm longer than a Volkswagen ID Buzz, for reference – and can seat up to seven people. The firm has so far sold more than 2200 Tang in Norway, where it is priced from around £52,500.

It features a twin-motor all-wheel drive powertrain offering 380kW, and can do 0-62mph in an impressive 4.6 seconds. Sitting on 22inch wheels, the Tang has a 86.4kWh Blade battery, which allows for an official range of 248 miles. 

The BYD Han is a sleek performance saloon that’s broadly similar in size to a Tesla Model S. The firm claims it will offer a “high-tech, premium experience”. 

As with the Tang, the Han also uses a 380kW twin-motor AWD powertrain, which in this case gives a 0-62mph time of 3.9 seconds. Using an 85.4kWh battery the Han has an official range of 324 miles, and it can charge at speeds up to 120kW.

So what about the Atto 3?

In terms of European and UK importance, BYD's smallest car is the big one – if that makes sense.

The Atto 3 has been designed with a focus on global markets, and particularly Europe. It’s an SUV that’s 4455mm long, so it’s a bit bigger than a Kia Niro EV but smaller than a Volkswagen ID 4.

BYD claims that the model fuses innovative design with a “truly digital, connected experience” inside. The exterior styling does take some cues from Volkswagen’s EV range, while the interior is a classic clean, clear electric design with some interesting features - particularly the door handles and air vents. There's also a big 15.6in touchscreen which, like in BYD's other models, rotates so you can align it portrait or landscape.

The Atto 3 is already offered in Australia with two battery sizes, but in Europe only one spec will be offered. It’s driven by a single 150kW motor that powers the front wheels and has a 0-62mph time of 7.3 seconds. There’s a 60.48kWh battery that allows for an official range of 260 miles. It can charge at speeds up to 88kW.

Notably, while the Han and the Tang are built on older electric platforms, the BYD Atto 3 is the firm’s first model built on its new bespoke electric e-Platform 3.0. It uses an 800V architecture, and is designed to house both two and all-wheel-drive powertrains and features the classic flat floor with the batteries mounted in the chassis floor.

The new architecture is designed around the Blade battery, and what BYD calls an ‘8-in-1’ electric powertrain. That basically means it is a single unit with the vehicle control unit, battery management system, power distribution unit, drive motor, motor controller, transmission, DC-DC connector and on-board charger all combined. BYD claims that unit allows for 89 per cent system efficiency.

So when can I expect to get a BYD in the UK?

Soon. Sooner than you might think, actually. BYD is still deep in negotiations with a potential dealer network, but the firm intent is for the Atto 3 to be on sale – and with customers taking deliveries – before the end of this year. 

While some new EV firms have decided to focus on an online sales model to save the time and expense of building up a dealership network, BYD believes that working with prominent and trusted UK dealers is key to helping it establish a presence rapidly. 

Unlike the rest of Europe, the UK will only get the Atto 3 at launch. That's partly because it sits in the most popular vehicle category in the UK, but also because it will be built in right-hand-drive form, while the Han and Tang are only being produced in left-hand drive.

But BYD is unlikely to have a single car in its UK line-up for long. For example, the firm recently showed off the BYD Seal, a Tesla Model 3-rivalling saloon that is also built on the e-Platform 3.0.


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