Automakers are showing flying cars in Shanghai – but Warren Buffett-backed BYD remains clear

Less than half a year after the unveiling of a prototype of a flying vehicle, the Chinese electric car start-up Xpeng presented a second model at the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2021.

Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

SHANGHAI – Flying cars may have made headlines at this year’s Shanghai Auto Show, but China’s BYD – backed by Warren Buffett – is sticking to ground vehicles for now.

This week, the Chinese electric car start-up Xpeng presented its second prototype for a flying vehicle, which, according to the company, had been in development for eight years. The new model looks more like a flying car than the original version, unveiled in Beijing in September, which looked more like a drone that carries people.

Geely showed an electrically powered “air taxi” from Volocopter for the first time in China at the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2021.

Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

Xpeng isn’t the only one looking up at the sky.

Companies like Hyundai, German start-up Lilium, and China-based Ehang are developing aircraft that can transport individuals.

Hangzhou, China-based Geely, owned by Volvo, showed an “air taxi” in Shanghai that was developed by its joint venture partner Volocopter.

“We are concentrating more on road transport.”

One of the flying vehicle companies’ selling points is the country’s growing urban road traffic. While consumer demand remains unclear, regulation has prevented more widespread use of flying cars.

However, there are many ways to fix the road congestion problem, Li Yunfei, a BYD spokesman, said in comments CNBC translated from Mandarin. “At the moment,” he said, “we are concentrating more on road transport.”

Li said the flying models aren’t all that different from helicopters.

Backed by investing guru Buffett, BYD sold more than 100,000 cars in the first quarter, more than half of which were new energy vehicles, a category that includes all-electric and hybrid cars.

The company announced a new version of its electric car operating system at the auto show that comes with its in-house developed “blade” battery. BYD plans to sell this battery system to third party manufacturers and already has Chinese state-owned high-end automaker Hongqi as a customer for the blade battery, Li said.

Buyers of BYD’s luxury Han electric car can customize the interior, as shown in this mock-up at the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2021.

Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

Last summer, BYD’s Han luxury sedan was the company’s first car to use the blade battery. The vehicle has become one of the most popular in the new energy category and is third in sales across the country in the first quarter. Only the Hongguang Mini EV and Tesla Model 3 have oversold it, according to the China Passenger Car Association’s sales rankings.

According to Li, 70% of Han vehicles sold are all-electric, battery-powered models. Starting this month, BYD plans to use the “Blade” battery in all all-electric cars.

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