If you’ve never heard of BYD Auto, you’re not alone. It’s one of several new automotive brands hitting the UK new car market in 2023.
The shift from fossil fuels to electric power has seen the formation of a number of new car companies with bold intentions of disrupting the new car market – just imagine a dozen new brands like Tesla – and several of these brands will be coming to the UK over the next couple of years. Most of these companies are from China, which has been leading the world in EV adoption for a number of years.
BYD Auto is one of China’s largest EV companies, and we’ve got all you need to know about this newcomer to the UK market right here.
So who or what exactly is BYD Auto?
As of early 2023, few UK motorists will have heard of BYD. But it’s a very different story in its home nation of China.
The name BYD stands for ‘Build Your Dreams’, and is a electrical conglomerate founded in 1995 to make electric batteries. It has since started building its own electric cars through its subsidiary BYD Auto, and is also growing into the van, truck, bus and even rail sectors.
BYD Auto has been China’s biggest-selling EV manufacturer for a decade, and is now plotting massive expansion throughout Europe. Last year saw the BYD opening for business in parts of Europe – Belgium, Denmark, Luxenbourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden – and now it’s the turn of the UK.
The company has an ambitious target of four million global sales in 2023. That’s more than most brands you’ve definitely heard of, and not far off some of the biggest names in the world (for comparison, Volkswagen’s global sales total in 2022 was 4.56 million).
When will BYD launch in the UK?
BYD Auto launched in the UK in early 2023 with its first model, the BYD Atto 3. But this is not the first evidence of BYD in the UK. London commuters have for some years ridden on 500 buses built by BYD and the company even has its own assembly plant in Falkirk, Scotland where it installs electric batteries in buses made by UK manufacturer ADL (Alexander Dennis Ltd).
The new Atto 3 is not the first BYD car on our shores either – a decade ago, the company dipped its toe in UK waters with a few examples of its e6, an electric crossover primarily placed with private-hire fleets. This time the manufacturer is rather more serious about cracking Europe and the UK – UK leasing company Octopus EV has already ordered 5,000 BYD cars over a three-year period.
What models does BYD have and what else is coming?
Currently, UK customers have only one BYD model to choose from – it’s called the Atto 3 (Atto being a prefix, like kilo or micro and actually meaning 16 zeros after a decimal point…) and is the first of a range of cars on a brand-new and versatile platform.
The Atto 3 is a family-sized electric SUV/crossover. It has a starting price of just under £37,000 and is powered by a 205hp electric motor. A 60kWh battery pack gives it an official driving range of around 260 miles.
Rivals of the Atto 3 include another Chinese-based electric SUV, the MG ZS EV. Other similar types of vehicle include the Kia Niro EV, Volkswagen ID.4 and Renault Megane E-Tech. So far, UK reviews of the BYD have been mixed – praising its equipment levels and reasonable pricing but less impressed by the driving dynamics and charging times. The Atto 3 currently holds an Expert Rating of 65% on The Car Expert’s award-winning Expert Rating Index, which aggregates new car review scores from 30 of the UK’s top motoring websites.
The next model to join the range will be the BYD Dolphin, a supermini-sized hatchback that’s quite similar in size to a Skoda Fabia – but obviously fully electric. The Dolphin was unveiled at the Fully Charged event in Farnborough in April 2023, with first customer cars expected before the end of this year.
What’s coming after the Dolphin is less certain. We do know that two models the company sells in Europe, the Tang SUV and Han saloon, won’t appear in UK showrooms because they are built on an old platform that doesn’t allow a conversion to right-hand drive.
More likely to be seen in UK showrooms eventually is the BYD Seal, another car on the same platform as the Atto 3. The Seal is a large saloon targeting the likes of the Tesla Model 3.
In its home market, the BYD model range numbers almost 20 vehicles from small cars to trucks, and any of them could conceivably be sold in the UK. The platform used for the Atto 3 can be adapted for much smaller or larger vehicles, and some industry sources suggest a smaller affordable electric hatchback is in the company’s plans.
Where can I try a BYD car?
Right now, your options are limited. However, this will change rapidly. One indicator that this is a very serious attempt to build a major presence in the UK is the list of dealer groups that are taking BYD franchises. Arnold Clark, Lookers, LSH and Pendragon are all major dealer groups and regarded as top names in the automotive retail industry.
So far, actual BYD showrooms are few and far between – UK sales of the Atto 3 only began in March 2023 with stores along the ‘spine of the UK’ in Milton Keynes, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow.
BYD’s major ambitions, and the calibre of dealer groups it’s partnered with, will see the number of outlets grow quickly – outlets and London and Belfast will open by the middle of the year, while the brand expects to have between 20 and 30 sites before the end of 2023 and closer to 100 by the start of 2026.
What’s particularly significant about this company?
BYD is a massive company, last year claiming to have sold more electric vehicles than Tesla. It’s also a completely self-contained manufacturer, making every part of its vehicles including the semi-conductors – the shortage of which have caused new car waiting times to mushroom in the last couple of years.
BYD reckons buyers ordering its cars will get them within three months – or less.
What makes BYD different to the rest?
Its batteries – BYD cars use a battery pack called a Blade which employs lithium-iron phosphate rather than lithium-ion and a different kind of construction that doesn’t require the battery cells to be placed into modules, saving weight.
In the BYD Seal, the battery is built into the shell of the car rather than being a separate pack, allowing much more freedom in designing the car’s interior. The downside to this, however, is that it makes battery repairs or replacement very difficult (if not impossible).
Battery safety attracts far more attention in China than elsewhere around the globe, thanks to some incidents where faulty batteries have set cars alight while being charged. BYD promotes its battery as much safer than a typical pack, claiming that a pack can have nails fired into it or be heated to 300 degrees C without catching fire.
The Blade also makes no use of cobalt – of all the rare-earth minerals used in EV batteries, cobalt is the least environmentally-friendly, as the mining of it is highly polluting.
You’ll certainly be seeing more of BYD in coming years. While the Atto 3 is an adequate – if not earth-shattering – first step, it’s clear that this Chinese car company has big ambitions and the resources to back them up. The Seal, in particular, has made many positive first impressions amongst reviewers, so we look forward to its arrival in the UK. Expect to see a fair few BYD cars on local roads before too long.
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This article was originally published in March 2023 and updated in May 2023 with additional information about the BYD Dolphin.