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First Sight: Daimler-BYD electric car design renderings leak out

Mon, 24 Oct 2011

Computer renderings of an electric car, being jointly developed by BYD Co., a Chinese battery and car producer that began making cars only less than a decade ago, and Daimler AG with more than a century of experience - were leaked for the second time this year. The car marks a critical juncture for the young Chinese carmaker based in the south China industrial hub of Shenzhen, just a stone's throw away from Hong Kong. It is also a key initiative in China, now the world's biggest auto market, for Daimler.

The stakes with the jointly developed all-electric car are high for BYD. The Chinese company has mightily struggled since the summer of last year with cars sales slipping on year every month until last month (September) when the company partly owned by a unit of Warrant Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. managed to grow sales from a year-earlier level. The joint car is being looked upon by some BYD executives as a critical product that may help them re-energize their struggling entity.

Despite its importance, renderings of the car keep leaking out. The first set of computer-generated images surfaced on a Chinese website around the outset of this year, shortly after the joint design team led by Daimler's China-based design team ‘fixed' the styling of the car.

Then, over the summer another set of renderings leaked onto the Chinese Internet. Those renderings show a ‘near final' exterior shape of the upcoming electric car - the result of tweaking and improvement the joint team has made as part of an effort to improve the ‘manufacturability' of the car to make it easier to produce and improve built-quality.

Neither Daimler nor BYD would comment on those leaked-out images, but earlier this month two individuals close to the BYD-Daimler joint venture confirmed the images authenticity for Car Design News.

If this was a design process managed by a global automaker outside China, computer-generated renderings such as these of the BYD-Daimler electric car would been tightly guarded. Yet, somehow the renderings keep finding their way onto popular Chinese websites.

"It's very disturbing how these renderings keep showing up," an individual close to the matter shared. "By the time the car comes out a couple of years from now, it won't be new," he added. The individuals said they have a good guess as to who leaked the renderings but declined to elaborate.

Daimler and BYD set up the equally owned electric-car joint venture in China in May of 2010. The two companies are expected to invest a total of 600 million yuan (About US $90m) in the venture, Shenzhen BYD Daimler New Technology Co.

They have not named the joint green-car brand, but company executives have said they are aiming to finish development of the all-electric car by the end of 2012 and make the car available for private buyers in China in 2013. The companies have no plans so far to market the car outside China.

According to the companies, they plan to use BYD's lithium-ion battery technology, motors and other propulsion technology to power the car. Otherwise, the vehicle is going to be German-engineered, based on the ‘modified' vehicle underpinnings of the Mercedes-Benz B Class, said two knowledgeable individuals close to the joint venture said.

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By Jeffrey Nagaoka