BYD’s Han electric car, pictured here at the 2021 Shanghai auto show, is one of the most popular new energy vehicles in China.
Evelyn Cheng | CNBC
SHENZHEN, China — Electric vehicle giant BYD is banking on new driver-assist technology to smooth out car rides.
BYD, backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, announced Monday a new technological system for stabilizing car rides through rugged terrain, sharp turns and even shallow water. The shock absorption tech is set to be a feature of the company’s recently launched premium brand Yangwang.
“Traditionally, luxury cars were determined by brand and history. For luxury new energy vehicles, it’s a matter of what tech and products,” BYD founder Wang Chuanfu said in Mandarin at a launch event Monday, according to a CNBC translation.
He claimed the tech represented a “breakthrough” that “leads and surpasses foreign technological level.”
The update comes ahead of the Shanghai Auto Show, set to kick off next week, where many Chinese car companies are set to make product and model announcements.
Part of the tech system uses the same “lidar” sensors used in assisted driving, according to BYD. Lidar, short for “light detection and ranging,” uses lasers to create detailed maps of the surrounding area.
The automaker said in a release its new “DiSus” system “provides a foundation for the future development of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).”
The company has taken a relatively cautious approach to self-driving tech.
When asked about “smart driving” during a call with investors in late March, BYD management said autonomous driving still faces the challenge of determining liability in the event of an accident. Still, management said, advanced assisted driving tech has the potential to improve overall safety. That’s according to a filing of last month’s call accessed through the Wind Information database.
The industry as a whole has been working to balance ambitious driver-assist options with measured safety protocols. EV leader Tesla in February recalled more than 360,000 cars over assisted-driving software for city streets that it said may cause crashes.
That urban assisted driving software is not available for Tesla drivers in China.
It was not immediately clear how Tesla’s shock absorption capabilities compared with BYD’s, but other car companies in China are looking into similar technology.
In September, Nio’s investment fund Nio Capital led a $39 million financing round into Boston-based ClearMotion, which develops software for active suspension.
Many details still unknown
BYD’s Wang didn’t address what the company’s new DiSus system would cost to use, or when it would become widely available.
Two of the compatible car models — Yangwang’s forthcoming U8 SUV and the Denza N7 SUV — are not yet available for deliveries. Auto giant Daimler has a small stake in BYD’s Denza brand.
BYD said some of its existing Han, Tang and Denza models are set to receive the new tech through an over-the-air upgrade.
The new system comes in three versions — “damping,” “air,” and “hydraulic” — which are set for individual integration with certain BYD models.
In the first quarter, BYD said it sold 264,647 all-electric passenger cars, up more than 80% from a year ago. Hybrid passenger vehicle sales doubled from a year ago to 283,270 in the first quarter.
Tesla, for its part, said it delivered more than 422,000 cars worldwide in the first quarter, without sharing a regional breakdown. China typically accounts for well over 20% of Tesla’s revenue.