Wang Chuan-Fu started BYD (the letters are the initials of the company's Chinese name) in 1995 in Shenzhen, China. A chemist and government researcher, Wang raised some $300,000 from relatives, rented about 2,000 square meters of space, and set out to manufacture rechargeable batteries to compete with imports from Sony and Sanyo. By about 2000, BYD had become one of the world's largest manufacturers of cellphone batteries. The company went on to design and manufacture mobile-phone handsets and parts for Motorola (MOT, Fortune 500), Nokia (NOK), Sony Ericsson, and Samsung.
Wang entered the automobile business in 2003 by buying a Chinese state-owned car company that was all but defunct. He knew very little about making cars but proved to be a quick study. In October a BYD sedan called the F3 became the bestselling sedan in China, topping well-known brands like the Volkswagen Jetta and Toyota (TM) Corolla.
BYD has also begun selling a plug-in electric car with a backup gasoline engine, a move putting it ahead of GM, Nissan, and Toyota. BYD's plug-in, called the F3DM (for "dual mode"), goes farther on a single charge - 62 miles - than other electric vehicles and sells for about $22,000, less than the plug-in Prius and much-hyped Chevy Volt are expected to cost when they hit the market in late 2010. Put simply, this little-known upstart has accelerated ahead of its much bigger rivals in the race to build an affordable electric car. Today BYD employs 130,000 people in 11 factories, eight in China and one each in India, Hungary, and Romania.