BYD is China's largest battery maker. Chances are, if you have a cellphone or a mp3 player, you have one of their products. The company is getting into the auto world, a move that only a few years ago would have seemed illogical, but now that the future will probably go to plug-in hybrids and electric cars, being good with batteries has become a key expertise to have when making cars (we're sure GM would agree - it is mostly batteries that are holding back the Volt).

BYD's first plug-in hybrid for the Chinese market will be the F6DM mid-sized sedan in the second half of 2008. Top speed should be 100 mph (160 kph), with a range of 62 miles (100 km) in all-electric mode and 267 miles (430 km) total after the gas engine kicks in. A fully electric version called the F6E is planned for 2009.

F6 is the name of the sedan, "DM" is for Dual Mode hybrid, and "E" is for Electric.

What makes the F6DM and F6E special is the battery pack: the lithium iron phosphate battery is said to be safer, less expensive, without heavy metals, completely recyclable and should be rechargeable to 70% in 10-minute at special charging stations. It can also be recharged more slowly with a home charging station, of course.

So if all goes according to plan, it seems like BYD will beat GM's Volt as the first production plug-in hybrid, though they have no plans yet to sell the F6DM outside China (this will surely depend on how successful the car is at home).

But even if the car isn't sold in the rest of the world at first, its technology will certainly inspire and influence other carmakers and speed up the transition to plug-in hybrids and electric cars.