A relatively unknown automaker believes they have the keys to the first mass-produced plug-in hybrid. The BYD F3DM was unveiled last week, and is reported to have an all-electric range of 62 miles before petrol is needed.

Chinese automaker BYD is angling to become the first manufacturer to bring a plug-in hybrid to the market. If true, BYD, which is anticipating release of their model F3DM in 2009, would beat out the Chevrolet Volt EV by over a year.

You may never have heard of BYD, but you have probably used one of their products. The company is the largest producer of mobile phone batteries in the world. BYD only got into the auto game in 2003 after buying out the Qinchuan Automobile Company.

Within four years, BYD had produced its 100,000th vehicle, according to the BYD web site.

It is their success with batteries that made them research an EV. Company founder and current Chairman Wang Chuanfu told Bloomberg at last year's Detroit Auto Show, "We are the best in battery technologies, and I am sure we will be the best in the automobile industry as well." He continued with, "Electricity will replace gasoline."

The company claims the F3DM, unveiled recently in China, has a range of 62 miles when not using the petrol engine. Nine hours in a normal power outlet gets you a full charge, but the company says they have a charging infrastructure capable of decreasing that time significantly.

They project 350,000 total vehicle sales in 2009, which would be a significant increase over 2008 and 2007. Despite the economy, the company says its auto sales has grown in October and November by about 75%.

BYD has also expressed aspirations to manufacture vehicles in America. If approved to sell their cars in the U.S., the BYD F3DM four-door sedan will go on sale for $22,000. They would also need to develop a dealer network in order to distribute the car in the States.

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