October 22, 2015 / 10:25 AM / 4 years ago

INTERVIEW-China's BYD may pick UK to first sell hybrid cars in Europe

* Britons open to new technologies -exec

* Buffett-backed firm makes China’s top plug-in

* VW diesel scandal could boost hybrid sales

By Costas Pitas

LONDON, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Chinese automaker BYD could find a route into the European passenger car market by selling plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in Britain, the firm’s boss in Europe told Reuters.

Several Chinese brands, including BYD, have already tried to sell vehicles to European consumers but failed to make headway partly due to perceptions around the quality and safety of Chinese brands.

The firm needs to get right the product this time, BYD Managing Director in Europe Isbrand Ho told Reuters, but Europe’s second largest car market Britain was a strong contender for launching the model.

“The Brits are pretty open to new technologies. The Brits are relatively wealthy. I think Britain could definitely be one of the locations,” he said in an interview.

BYD, which is backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc and already sells green energy buses and taxis in Europe, will choose one or two countries to launch the models rather than doing so on a Europe-wide basis, Ho said.

The first models sold will most likely be all plug-in hybrids, possibly tweaked versions of the Qin sedan, China’s best selling plug-in this year, and Tang sport utility vehicles already sold on the Chinese mainland, Ho said.

“European taste is more towards hatchbacks so that’s why I’m saying it could be a derivative from Qin into hatchback.”

The models would be unveiled at the Geneva auto show in 2017, Ho told Reuters on the sidelines of an event organised as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Britain during which business deals totalling around 40 billion pounds ($62 billion) were signed.

Sales of hybrid cars have soared in Europe in recent years thanks to improved technology, government schemes to encourage use of lower emissions vehicles, a wider choice of models and more competitive prices.

There have also been calls, including from German ministers, in recent weeks for more government support for electric models since Volkswagen admitted rigging diesel emissions tests in the United States.

Ho told Reuters that the scandal may help to boost sales of non-conventionally powered vehicles: “It’s helping the demise of the diesel engines,” he said.

“People who are looking for their next car will think twice.” (Writing by Jake Spring in Shanghai and Costas Pitas in London; Editing by Keith Weir)

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