China’s BYD Looking to Build Electric-Bus Plant in U.S.

After garnering abundant media attention in 2008 when Warren Buffett purchased a 10% stake in the company for $230 million, BYD has drawn a steady flow of criticism after repeatedly failing to deliver electric cars to the U.S.

Erik Derr 1, Correspondent

December 28, 2012

3 Min Read
Bus factory could switch to cars as battery systems are similar and vehicle lines share many components executive says
Bus factory could switch to cars, as battery systems are similar and vehicle lines share many components, executive says.

LOS ANGELES – BYD, China’s ambitious electric-vehicle company that counts billionaire Warren Buffett among its chief investors and is hoping to bring its battery-powered cars to the U.S., is taking a different route to enter America.

The auto maker says it plans to build an electric-bus assembly plant in the U.S., its second such installation overseas.

The exact location has yet to be determined, Micheal Austin, vice president-BYD America, tells WardsAuto, despite a widely circulated story by China’s Xinhua news agency that says the facility will be constructed in California.

Xinhua, the government’s official mouthpiece, reports the new plant will launch in 2013, ramping up production of about 100 buses in 2014 and will reach 500 units annually by 2015.

“Clearly, there are a lot sensitive negotiations that must go on” before any of that happens, Austin says. BYD will select the factory’s location in the first half of next year, but “we won’t be doing it through the media.”

Called the K9 in China, the BYD e-bus is an all-electric vehicle powered by a proprietary iron-phosphate battery and boasts in-wheel electric motors. The bus has a single-charge drive range of up to 155 miles (249 km) on urban streets and close to 190 miles (306 km) under optimal highway conditions. Top speed is about 27 mph (43 km/h).

The bus measures about 39 ft. (12 m) in length, provides standard seating for 31 passengers including the driver and has an expected price tag of between $550,000 and $600,000. It takes six hours to be fully charged using a standard electrical outlet or three hours with a fast-charging unit.

A BYD electric-bus demonstration model currently is in service as a car-rental shuttle for Hertz at the Los Angeles International Airport.

Austin says BYD’s e-bus and electric-car production operations are “exclusive of each other,” but admits the factory easily could switch to building cars, as the battery systems are similar and the vehicle lines share many other components.

Arguably, BYD’s first bus-manufacturing center in America could at some point become its first car plant here too. At the very least, the lessons learned in establishing the new factory will prove invaluable to the development and marketing of both vehicle lines.

After garnering abundant media attention in 2008 when Buffett purchased a 10% stake in the company for $230 million, BYD – known at the time as a leader in the production of batteries, energy storage units, lighting and solar panels – has drawn a steady flow of criticism after repeatedly failing to deliver on promises to bring its electric cars to the U.S. market.

Even sales of its electrified cars in China have done poorly.

In 2009, BYD announced its e6 all-electric cross/utility vehicle would be available in the U.S. the following year, with a planned rollout beginning in Southern California and expanding to several other major population centers.

But in 2010, the auto maker said it was delaying those plans and that U.S. sales were being pushed back to 2011. In December 2010, BYD said as many as 50 e6 units would be delivered by the end of 2011 to fleet customers in Sothern California, including the municipal government of Los Angeles.

Company officials at the time said they planned to sell the e6 model here for $35,000, before any government incentives.

However, in October 2011, BYD’s regional headquarters in Los Angeles opened one year behind schedule, announcing retail sales of the car would be delayed at least another 18 months due to the lack of charging infrastructure throughout the country.

Austin says BYD now is mainly focused on fleet sales for the e6, along with the electric bus, because fleet battery charging, not to mention maintenance and repair, is logistically easier to manage and less time-consuming.

Additionally, he says, fleet product launches are “more scalable and systematic.” So at least in the auto maker’s early presence in the U.S., fleet sales of its bus and car lines “makes the best sense.”

Adds Austin, “BYD is very excited to participate more fully in the U.S. markets.”

About the Author(s)

Erik Derr 1

Correspondent, WardsAuto

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