The last decade saw the meteoric ascent of many Chinese automakers, which not only started building and selling more (and better) cars on the local market but also expanded beyond the borders of the People’s Republic to become global brands. And by and large, they aren't making these big waves with gasoline-powered cars. One such success story is BYD—an acronym for Build Your Dreams—which was founded almost 30 years ago and is challenging and even surpassing the automakers it was trying to initially emulate.

As with many of its Chinese counterparts from the early 2000s, the rest of the world initially didn’t take this automaker seriously, often because of the copycat cars it initially produced and its lack of technical and design innovations.

BYD Lineup 2023

How things change. In the years since, BYD has become arguably the tip of the spear for China's unmatched global EV ambitions. In 2023, the company sold over 3 million vehicles around the world, an impressive achievement when you consider it sold about 427,000 vehicles in 2020. That’s an almost sevenfold sales increase in just three years, and since March 2022, it has announced that it is shifting its production and resources away from combustion engine vehicles and going all-in on EVs.

And this week, it made international news for surpassing Tesla in global EV sales—a feat that many industry watchers had anticipated for months that's now come to pass.

So what exactly is BYD? What cars does it make, and why is the rest of the world finally taking notice? Let's dive in with this inaugural edition of EV 101, our new compendium of beginner-friendly guides to the world of electric cars. 

Where Does BYD Come From?

BYD was founded in China in 1995, starting out with just 20 employees. It opened its first overseas office in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, three years later, in 1998, and it began building its first industrial park in China in 2000. Its industrial park in the Pingshan District in Shenzhen, China, was completed in 2007 and has served as the company’s headquarters since. BYD opened a North American headquarters in Los Angeles in 2011 after the city put in a huge order for electric buses. Its parent company, BYD Company Ltd, makes a lot of products including solar panels, industrial equipment, electronic parts and more. 


The BYD F3, an early sedan model. 

 The company wasn’t initially an automaker, and its first two major contracts were to supply lithium-ion batteries for mobile phones to Nokia and Motorola. Its automotive ambitions began with the 2003 acquisition of Xi'an Qinchuan Automobile.

By 2005, its first production model, the F3 compact sedan, was already on the market, and in 2008, it introduced a plug-in hybrid variant of the model called the F3DM. Interestingly, this early PHEV was shown by BYD at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show, already hinting at the automaker’s international ambitions. But even then, the cars had such suspect quality, designs and technology that they were hardly taken seriously by the rest of the world. 

In 2008, Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway investment company purchased $225 million in shares—largely out of interest in its battery business—giving the brand a big boost. In the subsequent years, the huge investments into and incentives for EVs by the Chinese government helped push BYD and the rest of China's auto industry into a kind of surprise world leader, something that really didn't become readily apparent until after the pandemic

Today, the company is enrolled in several programs and agreements with various companies and governments around the world to promote electric vehicles, extract raw materials for EV batteries, and build more manufacturing facilities to support its massive expansion.

What Vehicles Does BYD Sell And Under What Brands?

BYD Tang

BYD Tang

BYD doesn’t just sell cars. It builds and markets a wide array of vehicle types, ranging from small city cars to buses and trucks. Most of these vehicles are available with a plug-in hybrid or fully electric powertrain. (For years, BYD was often cited as the world's top seller of "electric vehicles," but it often counted hybrids in those figures; the rest of the world generally does not.) 

Passenger cars are built under their own name, so they wear a BYD badge, but also under several separate brands, each with its own distinct badging and identity. The BYD Seagull subcompact hatchback is its smallest offering, followed by the compact Dolphin, but if you want a sedan, the manufacturer has you covered with the compact Qin, the Seal (a Tesla Model 3 and Volkswagen ID.7 rival), and the larger Han. Crossover fans can pick between the Atto 3, the Song, and the Tang. 


The BYD Dolphin and Seal.

Denza is one of BYD’s more luxurious brands. Initially a joint venture with Mercedes-Benz, Denza now has three models on its roster: the N7 and N8 crossovers and the D9 luxury minivan.

Yangwang is another BYD luxury brand, but this one is positioned to challenge European premium manufacturers directly, so its vehicles, the U9 sports car and the U8 large SUV (pictured), are positioned to start at over 1 million Chinese yuan, or about $141,000.

2024 BYD Yangwang U8 Premium Edition in the mountains

2024 BYD Yangwang U8 Premium Edition 

BYD announced a new passenger car brand called Fangchengbao, which “specializes in professional and personalized identities” and will offer plug-in vehicles specifically designed for certain tasks, like going off-road or doing laps around a track.

Commercial vehicles are also big for BYD. It builds small electric vans, like the BYD M3 (called ETP3 in Europe), but also larger trucks (Class 5, 6, 7, and 8) on its own heavy-duty platform that can be equipped for a wide range of tasks. BYD also builds buses in several locations around the world, including the United States, through its plant in Lancaster, California.

When Did BYD Outsell Tesla in EVs?

BYD first outsold Tesla in 2022, but both plug-in hybrids and EVs were included in that sales tally, so it wasn’t an entirely fair comparison. 2023 was the year when BYD recorded a surge in the number of electric vehicles sold, outpacing Tesla in the year’s fourth quarter with 526,400 EV deliveries to Tesla’s 484,500.

What Markets Are BYD Present In?

BYD first expanded its presence outside of China by selling vehicles in the Middle East, South America, and Africa. Since its founding, it has expanded from the couple dozen employees it initially had to over 290,000, as well as 40 global branches (in late December 2021).

BYD Dolphin (Europe)

BYD Dolphin (Europe)

Aside from the aforementioned geographical areas it initially expanded into, BYD currently also sells passenger cars in certain European and Southeast Asian markets, as well as in the United Kingdom and Oceania. In Europe, it is present in 19 countries, and it already has a factory in Hungary where it builds electric buses, as well as plans to open a second manufacturing location in the country.

BYD Mexico

BYD in Mexico

Does BYD Sell Cars In The United States? 

At present, it does not, despite having a headquarters building in Los Angeles. The United States currently has stiff 27.5% tariffs on Chinese-made cars, so due to that and ongoing trade and political tensions between the U.S. and China, BYD is not available there yet. That situation is expected to change someday. 

BYD is already in North America, however, commencing sales in Mexico. The company is also said to be eyeing a factory in Mexico, which would in theory allow it to sell cars in the U.S. without those tariffs. 

How Many Cars Does BYD Sell Globally?

BYD sold 3.02 million EVs and PHEVs in 2023, up from 1.85 million in 2022. This marks a 62 percent increase and shows a strong growth tendency that will be maintained given BYD’s project portfolio and strong ambition to keep expanding into new markets.

Does BYD Make Its Own Batteries?

BYD is one of the world’s largest suppliers of rechargeable batteries, so all the battery packs it puts in its EVs are manufactured in-house. It also supplies batteries for other electric vehicle manufacturers, and there’s even a rumor that Mercedes-Benz will start building EVs with BYD batteries starting in 2025.

BYD Blade Battery

Over the years, BYD has grown to own the complete supply chain, from mineral extraction to final battery assembly. This has enabled the company to not only pay less for its batteries but to also invest in research and development. The fruit of its battery tech research effort is the advanced BYD Blade battery, which prioritizes fire safety over maximum energy density, which doesn’t seem to be as high a priority for other EV battery manufacturers.

What Are BYD's Car Prices? Are The Cars Any Good?


Generally, yes, BYD's cars are regarded as solid by European reviewers—and more importantly, as great values. The interior and exterior designs have advanced a great deal since the abysmal 2010s. 

Take the BYD Seal, for example. The UK's Autocar finds the interior "more visually appealing than the minimalist and more austere Model 3," and said the dual-motor AWD Seal undercuts a similarly spec'd Model 3. It's also mentioned as competition to the Hyundai Ioniq 6 and BMW i4; a tough crowd to run against, but the Seal apparently holds its own. Similarly, the compact BYD Dolphin starts at just £26,195 and according to that publication, "brings long range and impressive practicality to small EV class at a very keen price."

Simply put, BYD's cars seem to offer impressive range, technology and performance for much lower prices than many competitors, which especially as the European automakers worried as they struggle to ramp up their own EVs. They see BYD as a threat to be taken seriously, so much so that the European Union is weighing stronger tariffs of their own

Is BYD A Serious Player In The Electric Space?


Undoubtedly, yes. Though BYD's cars aren't for sale in every market yet, and Europe and the U.S. may act to fend it off in novel ways, the automaker is the poster child for how good China's auto industry has become. Expect to hear much more from this brand as the years go on.

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