byd-e6-610.jpgCould electric vehicles help recharge China’s sluggish car market? BYD hopes so as it announces Denza, the new marque for electric vehicles produced by its 50:50 JV with Germany’s Mercedes-Benz.

BYD is making a lot of noise about its electric vehicles and clearly hopes a prestigious western partner will win Chinese buyers over to EVs.

BYD is mostly known in the west because of legendary investor Warren Buffett who bought a 10% share in it. More recently it has had to lay off thousands of employees as investors realise that EVs remain very much a jam tomorrow market and the company has bigger isses to deal with.

BYD’s electric vehicles such as the e6 (pictured) accounted for just 400 deliveries in 2011, less than 0.1% of the Chinese company’s total car sales of 437,000 vehicles.

Overall, BYD’s auto sales last year dropped almost 13%. Rival Geely did relatively better and sold 422,000 cars worldwide, just 1% up on its 2010 tally.

The sluggish domestic market is to blame for the declining fortunes of Chinese carmakers. Light truck and car sales in China grew only 2.5% last year to 18.5 million — the lowest growth rate since the mid-1990s.

Surprisingly, perhaps, foreign marques did better than their home-grown rivals with Chinese manufacturers managing to sell just 6.11m cars, a fall of 2.6% over the previous year — more data here.

The sluggish domestic market is forcing local manufacturers to look elsewhere for growth. For example, Geely saw deliveries to mainland China drop 3% to 382,000 in 2011, while overseas sales almost doubled.

Exports by chinese carmakers rose 50% in 2011 to almost 850,000, surpassing the previous high achieved in 2008.

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