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Chinese plug-in hybrid gets prime place at US auto show
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BYD Co, the Chinese auto maker backed by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, will display its plug-in hybrid vehicle in a booth next to General Motors Corp at this week's Detroit auto show in the United States.

BYD's promotion of the first production plug-in hybrid vehicle shows the auto maker's ambition to join the ranks of North America's largest car companies. It also highlights retrenchments at the annual show by major manufacturers, including Nissan, which is skipping the event, as the industry emerges from the worst US sales year since 1992.

"We used the opportunity of free space to reallocate some people such as BYD and Brilliance to move to the main hall," Joe Serra, co-chairman of the North American International Auto Show, told Bloomberg News.

Brilliance China Automotive Holdings Ltd, a Hong Kong-based car firm making its first appearance at the Detroit show, will join BYD on the main exhibit floor. Last year BYD was relegated to a hallway.

"The significance of this is that it shows that if you have a vacuum in the auto market it will be filled," said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst at consulting firm AutoPacific Inc. "You can extrapolate that across the market."

BYD will bring the F3 Dual Mode sedan to the Detroit show, which opened to the press over the weekend, the Shenzhen, China-based auto maker said in a statement.

GM unveiled a concept of its Volt plug-in, which can be recharged from household sockets, in Detroit two years ago.

Last year brought fears that a major US auto maker would collapse. GM and Chrysler LLC received US$8 billion in loans from the US government after saying they may have failed without the funding.

Toyota Motor Corp forecast its first operating loss, and Ford Motor Co may be years away from the profitability it promised at the start of last year.

The show will be more somber this year because of industry conditions, Serra said.

Vehicle introductions, which in the past have included such stunts as cars driving through plate glass windows "will have a more business nature and tone and less glitz and glamour," Serra said. "They'll let the cars be the stars."

Brinley said Chinese auto makers have at least five years before they will be able to compete in the US.

In September, a unit of Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc bought a minority stake in BYD.

(Shanghai Daily January 12, 2009)

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