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Warren Buffett's electric cars are here

New dealer hoping the BYD e6 from China will attract mass-market buyers with its price and low running costs

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Christopher Chin of Vantage says the bill for charging the BYD's battery is about S$30, which is enough for around 400km of range. Because it has relatively few moving parts, it is also cheaper to maintain than a comparable petrol or diesel car.

Singapore

THE car market continues to see a surge in electric power, as a new dealer flips the switch here on BYD, the Shenzhen-based manufacturer backed by legendary investor Warren Buffett.

Vantage Automotive Limited will start selling the BYD e6 on July 19 for S$133,888 including Certificate of Entitlement.

The price puts the five-seat, five-door crossover car firmly at the affordable end of the electric vehicle (EV) market. It is about a third the price of a Tesla, and undercuts rival EVs from Hyundai, Kia and Nissan.

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Low pricing is one factor that Vantage hopes will help BYD crack the market here, according to Christopher Chin, the company's managing director. The car is being sold by E-Auto, a new division of Vantage, which itself is a unit of Sime Darby.

Mr Chin told The Business Times that the e6's low running costs are another reason to consider the car. The bill for charging the BYD's battery is about S$30, which is enough for around 400km of range. Because it has relatively few moving parts, it is also cheaper to maintain than a comparable petrol or diesel car.

Over 10 years, an owner could save up to S$30,000 by switching to electric power, he reckons.

If the e6 looks vaguely familiar, that might be because there are already more than 100 of them on the road. HDT Taxi owns a fleet of BYDs, as part of its business plan to offer zero-emissions cab rides here.

Mr Chin said HDT will continue to have direct access to BYD for its cabs, but Vantage will be the exclusive dealer responsible for all retail and fleet sales in Singapore.

Mr Chin stressed that Vantage has been careful to differentiate its cars from those operated by HDT. "Taxis are taxis. There are some things we've added to really make it feel like a passenger car," he said. These include upscale features like customisable colours, softer upholstery, a powered tailgate and a touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation.

Mr Chin hopes E-Auto will eventually sell around 30 BYDs a month. That's a similar volume to what Vantage achieved with Ford (another brand it handles), until last year's stringent Vehicular Emissions Scheme added pollution surcharges that made its products uncompetitively expensive.

But, like their batteries, the business of selling EVs could be a matter of staying power. It won't be until the middle of 2020 that BYD will have a standalone showroom, which is also when a second model joins the line-up here in the form of another crossover car.

Vantage and BYD first got in touch with each other only three months ago, and for now the e6 has to share space with the former's used car division on the first floor of its Alexandra Road building.

Yet, Mr Chin said it is better to have things in place before the EV market takes off, instead of trying to catch up after they find widespread adoption. "Once the infrastructure is right and charging points are available, everybody is just going to come forth with electric cars," he said of rival dealerships.

At least one early believer in EVs has profited from similar thinking. After investing US$232m in BYD in September 2008, Mr Buffett has seen his stake more than triple in value. Vantage Automotive is hoping its own tie-up with BYD will pay off just as handsomely.