Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Brent Co | posted March 30, 2015 19:56
The Electric Dreamer
If there is one major trend in the automotive world, it's the rising popularity of electric vehicles.
There are several reasons for this. Thanks to the involvement of major car manufacturers and smaller outfits like Tesla, there are many different electric models to actually choose from in the market. The infrastructure for EVs has also expanded in key locations around the world with charging stations popping up in major city centers. Then there's Formula E, an all-electric open-wheel motorsport that is fully supported and sanctioned by the FIA. All these and more have contributed to the rise of the electric vehicle globally.
Locally there are a few EVs running around brought in either by wealthy individuals or by various automotive companies as technology demonstrators. We've driven a few of those cars but never for more than just a test around the block or a token drive on some village road. This time we'll fully test what it's like to drive an EV everyday on supermarket runs, the morning commute to work, the weekend drive and more. There is, however, a catch: the EV we were handed the keys to isn't from Japan, Germany or the United States.
No, it's from China.
Say hello to the BYD e6, one of the first plug-in all-electric vehicles to enter the country and the first one that AutoIndustriya will get to fully test on local roads and, more importantly, local traffic.
The e6 is a crossover from Chinese automobile manufacturer BYD, otherwise known as Build Your Dreams. Locally, BYD is sold by Solar Transport Automotive Resources (STAR Corp.), and they brought in one e6 to as their technology demonstrator (hence the many, many stickers) meaning it isn't for sale yet. Nevertheless, we'll put it through our regular test cycles.
Being a crossover means that the e6 utilizes a car platform (unibody) but has the body of a wagon/SUV, though the overall height and ground clearance are more befitting an MPV. One look at the e6 and it's easy to distinguish it from other vehicle; the same can't be said of many of its other BYD and Chinese brethren.
By all indications, the e6 actually looks quite alright (without the stickers, of course) and original. There is a bit of a similarity in terms of the profile and greenhouse with the Range Rover, but given the e6's dimensions at 4554mm x 1822mm x 1630mm (L x W x H), we highly doubt that this is a copy of the almost 4.9 meter-long British SUV.
Step inside and the e6 looks alright too, though the shade of beige they chose does make it exceedingly bright when you're driving. The steering wheel is nice, though it appears to be a copy of the one on the previous generation Honda Accord. There's a short stick for the drivetrain that is reminiscent of the one on the Toyota Prius. The dashboard is neatly laid out with a long LCD gauge cluster in the middle and a couple buttons on the lower console. At the center of the dash is a 2-DIN entertainment system that has DVD playback among many other functions, though they may need to spellcheck a bit more because I don't know what “Buletooth” is.
The seats are upholstered in cream beige fabrics; they're sufficiently comfortable and ergonomic. The rear seat legroom could use some improvement, but nevertheless its fine for the e6's size. The trunk is quite spacious though the load space is quite high.
Pop the hood and, well, it's like looking at a pair of huge powerbanks. There are no exhaust extractors, no intake manifold or other components you see in an internal combustion engine, though there is a radiator. Instead what you see is the power unit and a couple orange electrical conduits that lead to the batteries under the vehicle and other components.
Powering up the e6 for the first time lights up the gauges and indicates that BYD's electric crossover is ready to go. The digital LCD gauge is actually quite busy and displays a lot of data such as the charge level, the speed, the current electrical consumption (in kW or kilowatts), average consumption and other information.
In city streets, the BYD e6 performs far better than I expected. Maneuverability is good and the silence of the powertrain is bliss; so much so that you do have to use your horn to get the attention of absent minded jaywalkers. Braking is good and it's regenerative.
The ride comfort is very plush so don't expect great handling. Personally I'm still unsure whether the soft ride is a result of the suspension (it feels like this has fluid shocks) or the weight of the vehicle (2-tonnes), but I wouldn't mind firming up the suspension settings a bit as the BYD e6 has a tendency to scrape higher-than-normal speed bumps; a concern since the batteries are the ones that would get damaged under there.
One surprising characteristic of the e6 is its quickness thanks to the fact that all 450 Newton-meters of torque are available right away; that's the benefit of having an electric motor. To put that in perspective, the Toyota Fortuner 3.0V only has 343 Nm of torque. Top speed is quoted at 140 kilometers per hour but we only took it to 100 km/h on the highway. There is also a button at the bottom of the dashboard console that allows the driver to choose between Eco and Sport.
On a full 100% charge BYD claims a total achievable range of 300 kilometers (highway) from the 75 kWh LiFePo4 batteries and the 140 PS brushless motor. Charging time is at 2.5 hours if you have the 400-volt IEC62196 European gun charger at home, though that time goes up significantly if a standard A/C socket is used. It also charges itself when you're going downhill, much like any other hybrid out there.
The most important test of the BYD e6 is its consumption. Based on current electricity rates (Meralco) a full charge for the e6 costs PhP 700 according to BYD, and that will be our basis for the economy test. On our normal weekday drive to work (22.1 kilometers) with moderate traffic (average speed 19 km/h, 55 minutes total), the BYD e6 consumed 8% of its total charge. That equates to around PhP 56 for the one way trip. On the return drive (23.3 kilometers), traffic had significantly increased (average speed 14 km/h) the BYD e6 consumed 9% or about PhP 63. When the traffic was all clear (average speed 36 km/h), the same roundtrip was achieved with just 11% consumed. No special tricks here; just sensible driving with the airconditioning on.
What was really unusual was what I had experienced as a new EV driver. You see, unlike regular hybrids (i.e. Prius) or EVs with small range extending engines (i.e. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV), the e6 depends purely on being plugged in to keep on going. Misjudge your total remaining range before getting to a charging station and you would be stuck. That reality leads to a rather new condition called “range anxiety” and it could be quite unnerving especially once your total remaining charge starts dropping below 50%.
That being said, there is some real potential with the BYD e6 and other EVs... if the right conditions are met, that is. Our government has to start getting behind actually signing and passing a law that will bring down the prohibitive costs of EVs, hybrids and other alternative fuel vehicles. The infrastructure is non-existent, as there are no other charging stations unless you get one yourself. And lastly, there's the cost of power here. The Philippines ranks at one of the highest in terms of electricity rates in the world at USD 0.36 per kWh. To put that rate in perspective, Thailand is at USD 0.06-0.13 per kWh, Japan is at USD 0.2-0.24 kWh, the United Kingdom is at USD 0.2 per kWh.
Unless our government gets some true leadership together, one that has some actual long term planning and vision, EVs will amount to nothing more than (in the words of WS) a weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream.