Chinese automaker BYD's name stands for "build your dreams," and so far, BYD's dreams of mass-producing electric cars and hybrids have been far greater than their actual sales. That's not stopped them from taking a leap with their next model and building a pop-up robot into the dashboard that responds to voice commands. Someone's a big fan of EVE from "Wall-E."
This would seem like more of a joke if BYD wasn't one of the more established players in the Chinese auto industry, with investment from Warren Buffett and a partnership with Daimler AG. Set for an unveiling next week at the Beijing Auto Show, BYD's Qin plug-in hybrid sedan follows the failure of its F3DM -- a plug-in hybrid BYD had once sought to bring to America, but only ended up selling 80 copies of in China.
The Qin offers a long list of upgrades over the FD3M, starting with a more modern exterior. The battery pack has been shrunk to save weight and lower costs; the Qin can travel about 20 miles on electricity alone before a gas engine kicks in. Reports in China say the Qin should be able to hit 60 mph in 6.9 seconds and carry a sticker price of about $31,000, undercutting the new plug-in Toyota Prius.
But there aren't as many details about the "i" robot in the dashboard, which uses voice controls for internet connections, music downloads, some vehicle controls and may even monitor for drowsy drivers through cameras in its face -- although having a talking robot on the dashboard should keep even the sleepiest driver stimulated.