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Chinese carmaker BYD says electric-car sales may triple this year

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(Read caption) A customer checks a BYD e6 electric car at a dealership in Beijing, China (December 9, 2015). BYD projects that its sales could triple this year.

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China's BYD eked out a global victory in electric-car sales last year, selling more plug-in cars than BMW, General Motors, Nissan, Renault, or Tesla.

The company delivered nearly 62,000 battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles last year, almost entirely in China.

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Now, the company projects that it may be able to sell close to three times that number this year.

According to Bloomberg, BYD chairman Wang Chuanfu said the company may sell as many as 150,000 so-called New Energy Vehicles in China this year.

Both national and local Chinese governments are penalizing vehicles with combustion engines and incentivizing plug-in vehicles with a variety of rebates, tax advantages, and registration privileges.

The push for electric cars has two purposes. First, it's part a strenuous effort to reduce the notorious and hazardous air pollution in China's cities.

Second, it encourages Chinese carmakers to get experience with designing and building plug-in cars, which it views as a critical part of the global auto market in future years.

New Energy Vehicles include both emission-free battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the latter being far more popular.

The network of public charging stations in China remains spotty, and a huge percentage of new-car buyers live in high-rise apartments rather than single-family homes.

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That makes it entirely unclear whether any of those plug-in hybrids are actually ever plugged in.

Last year's new-energy vehicles sales in China totaled more than 330,000.

That figure, however, includes what would be deemed low-speed or neighborhood electric vehicles that aren't included in North American and European sales totals.

The official goal is for China to have 5 million such vehicles on its roads by 2020.

Famed investor Warren Buffet took a stake in BYD back in 2008, through his Berkshire Hathaway holding company, and has held it since then.

While BYD planned to launch its passenger cars into the U.S. market several years ago, it has pulled back from those plans and is focusing on electric buses instead.

California electric-car startup Tesla Motors will start taking orders in China next quarter for its Model X luxury crossover SUV, even before it launches the car in Europe.

The company had early hopes of strong success in China, but it stumbled at first and replaced the head of its Chinese unit.

The growing market for new-energy vehicles, however, is likely to help its long-term aspirations in China, which include a production plan for the Model 3 vehicle it will unveil this week.

This article first appeared in GreenCarReports.