A cold and rather unpleasant morning in Düsseldorf provided the background to my first encounter with the BYD Atto 3. I was somewhat pleasantly surprised when the mid-sized SUV in a silver colour was stationed in front of me, the state of charge (soc) at 98 percent, allowing for a theoretical 400 km reach. A quick introduction into the brand new e-vehicle, the obligatory check whether a charging cable is available (in the storage space below the trunk) and off we went, driving towards the Dutch city of Rotterdam.
Who is the Chinese car manufacturer BYD?
Let’s take a step back and explain the significance of BYD, a company from China which describes itself as a ‘total solution for green transportation’. Founded in 1995 as a Chinese pioneer in battery technology, BYD today works on creating a complete, clean-energy ecosystem that reduces the world’s reliance on fossil fuels. Here in Europe they are focusing on the transportation sector, where the majority of their 230,000 employees worldwide are working. BYD is huge, the Chinese have established over 30 industrial parks across all six continents and play a significant role in everything related to electronics, automobiles, new energy and rail transit. BYD started its rise as an e-vehicle producer with fully electric buses quickly becoming the number one global player in this field of transportation. Its home city Shenzhen is the prime example with more than 17,000 electric buses on the roads and a BYD market share of about 80%.
Looking at passenger cars, BYD became the world’s best-selling electric vehicle brand in the year 2022, selling 1.8 million units, and therefore tripling its numbers from 2021. BYD increased its local market share in China by more than 11% YoY in 2022, with six out of the top 10 models in the Chinese market coming from the brand, compared to just three in 2021.
BYD enters Europe in 2023 with three electric vehicles
And now Europe: BYD is entering Europe with three electric models: While the BYD Tang aims to pick up families looking for a large SUV with seven seats, the BYD Han is a proper sedan and more likely to appeal to Model 3 or even Model S enthusiasts who might find Teslas too expensive. And my vehicle for the three day road trip through the Netherlands and Germany is BYD’s Atto 3, a mid-size car with a hatchback that's aimed at the masses. It is clearly positioned to become a competitor to the VW ID.3, Kia e-Niro or Cupra Born electric vehicles here in Europe. So what was my impression on these 1,200 km?
Based on BYDs brand new e-Platform 3.0, the Atto 3 comes with a mere 60 kWh battery with a range of 420 kilometres combined according to WLTP. The currently available first versions allow for a rather disappointing maximum charging speed of 88 kWh - future versions will be equipped with an 800-volt system. In my rental car the 15.6-inch swivelling display and a heat pump are standard. The Atto 3 uses sustainable, vegan leather with the seats covered in two different colours, creating a certain fanciness. Striking air vents, an ergonomic door opener, red rubber bands in the doors that form the door compartment and emit different sounds when plucked, and a gear selector like in an airplane – the interior of the Atto 3 aims high.
Driving through cities such as Düsseldorf or Rotterdam, the 4.45-metre long Atto 3 is easy to handle, the seat positioning is fine for someone like me with 1.91 metres height and visibility ok, however especially the back window could offer a little more view. Parking the electric Atto is easy, as the cameras provide excellent support. The front-wheel drive of the car accelerates to 100 km/h in 7.3 seconds and reaches a maximum speed of 160 km/h with an output of 150 kW.
About 80 percent of our driving took place on freeways. In the Netherlands, the maximum speed limit during the day is 100 km/h; in Germany, we drove slightly faster between 120 and 130 km/h whenever possible. Our average consumption with our fully loaded car came to 20.5 kWh, not bad for a small SUV.
My verdict on travelling 1.200 km with the BYD Atto 3
The Atto 3 is really easy to drive, well equipped with technical features and solutions, as usually known from Chinese manufacturers. I was surprised about the quality of workmanship, interior and exterior both convinced us and the many viewers, who came and had a look when charging on the freeway or in Rotterdam. The vehicle looks a little smaller than the KIA and some EV drivers were strongly reminded of the Mercedes-Benz EQA with its rear design and its continuous tail lights. Talking about design: Incidentally, Wolfgang Egger, former chief designer of Audi and Alfa Romeo, is responsible for the design of the BYD models. He developed the R8 sports car for Audi, the Q7 SUV and the first Audi e-tron concept.
If one would have to pick one negative feature, it would be the current maximum charging speed of 88 kW allowing you to charge in about 30 minutes from 30 to 80 percent. All of the chargers we selected (IONITY, FastNed or Allego) were capable of charging at a much faster speed, here the waiting times added up with similar sized vehicles being back on the road much faster than us.
In Europe, the company plans to sell 200,000 of its three models in 2023 and I forecast the Atto 3 to be a best-seller for clients that like the smaller SUV with lots of smart solutions inside. On top, BYD’s pricing is really aggressive: For example, BYD's Atto 3 sells in China for the equivalent of about 25,000 Euros, while the European-tuned version starts at 42,000 Euros in Germany. Compared to prices for an ID.3 or Cupra, the Chinese provide value for money with a lot of experience in battery and charging technology combined. And that is a good sign for a European electric car market that is longing for more variety and less expensive vehicles.
Photos courtesy of Michael Brecht.