SHENZHEN - BYD Company Limited's first vehicle to hit the US road might be an all-electric bus and the US market is set to be the company's largest overseas market.
BYD, partly owned by billionaire Warren Buffett, is currently building its US headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. It will open late this year or early 2011.
Los Angeles First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner told China Daily his city will add electric buses to the metropolitan fleet as part of the city's efforts to cut greenhouse emissions, and BYD's electric bus is being tested.
BYD is famous for its e6 electric car model, and its F3 economic sedan, the best-selling gasoline car in China in 2009. The company unveiled its first all-electric bus, the K9, in late September.
"BYD's all-electric car, the e6, is scheduled to be sold to consumers in the US by 2012, and our K9 electric bus will arrive before that," Stella Li, senior vice-president of BYD, told China Daily.
Li said it's very likely that the electric buses will be assembled locally in LA, due to the high cost of shipping, but the vehicle's battery systems will be supplied by BYD's manufacturing base in China.
Using the BYD standard charging cabinet, the K9 can be fully charged in six hours with normal charger, or it can be 50 percent charged with BYD's rapid-chargers in 30 minutes, the company said.
"BYD aims to provide a package of eco-system solutions including new-energy vehicles, batteries, energy storage units, solar panels and LED energy-saving lights to the US market, which will be BYD's largest market except for China," said Li.
Apart from batteries and vehicles, solar energy is the third field that BYD's chairman Wang Chuanfu has entered. In 2009, BYD announced it was building a massive $3.3 billion, 5-gigawatts (GW) plant to produce its own polysilicon. That facility is expected to be completed in 2015.
BYD is also a world leader in the manufacture of batteries for other applications. In September, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power formed a partnership with BYD to develop a grid-scale battery project for renewable energy storage.
"Selling vehicles to the Los Angeles metropolitan fleet is a great deal for BYD, however it will be a lot tougher for BYD to sell its electric cars to the general public in the US. But its strategy to sell its other green technologies here just might succeed. BYD can probably make quality products that are fairly low-priced in that area," said Alysha Webb, a Los Angeles-based independent auto analyst.
"BYD is a remarkable story, 15 years ago the company didn't exist but now it has hired 200,000 people," said Beutner, adding that Wang Chuanfu is a "warm and engaging individual".
"BYD will have a very good profile; we hope that profile will cause more Chinese companies to invest in LA," he said. He added that the city provides many advantages for investors, such as a three-year tax exemption for new business and abundant human resources, and more than 200 universities, including three of the top 10 engineering universities. About 40 percent of trade between China and the US comes from Los Angeles, he said.
"We support exports; LA is the only city in the US that owns a port, airport and electric facility at the same time, which all support business in our city," he said.
BYD's US headquarters will be an export base for the company, BYD's Li said without elaboration. The headquarters will create 50 to 150 jobs initially, including marketing, sales and research and development positions, Li said.
BYD's sales, including exports, increased 28 percent to 427,000 units in the first 10 months of 2010, according to Automotive Resources Asia, affiliated to JD Power and Associates.