China EV maker BYD does good job of opening N. American office. Now comes the hard part.
Chinese automaker BYD opened its North American headquarter in Los Angeles this week. I’d have to say the event was a success. Some 150 people attended, including LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; BYD Chairman Wang Chuan-fu; Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which is a BYD investor; the mayor of BYD’s hometown Shenzhen; the Chinese Consul General; and a plethora of lesser beings, including journalists, the contractor who redid the building, and three future candidates for Villaraigosa’s job.
After such a rocky start in the U.S. market, which included missed launch deadlines, I was happy to see something go smoothly for the Chinese
automaker, which aims to begin selling its electric vehicles to consumers here in the U.S. starting next year. That isn’t a predicator of future success, of course. That will depend on the company’s actual vehicles.
One of BYD’s e6 electric crossover vehicles was parked in front of the building, located just south of downtown Los Angeles in an area with multiple car dealerships. This building is not a dealership, however. At least not yet. It will house BYD’s administrative and engineering staff.
I had the chance to drive the e6 last week. It’s not a bad car. To be sure, the e6 is a bit sluggish compared to a smaller electric vehicle such as the Nissan Leaf. But then the e-6 is 179.53 inches long with a curb weight of nearly 5.060 lbs. The Leaf is only 175 inches long with a curb weight of 3,354 lbs.
But that size—and the vehicle’s roominess– will give the e6 a lot of utility that smaller EVs don’t have. Also, I drove it in “economy” mode. BYD business development director Bill Wang told me later it also has a “sporty” setting that improves the acceleration. “But that uses up the battery faster,” he said. BYD claims the e6 can travel up to 186.41 miles on a single charge with a top speed of 87 mph.
The interior is blandly acceptable. One thing I didn’t like was the placement of the instrument panel on the console. It is in the middle rather than directly behind the steering wheel so the driver has to look down and to the right to see speed etc.
The electric car will be available for fleets later this year. Consumer sales will begin in the second quarter of 2012, BYD senior vice president Stella Li told me in an interview a few months ago.
As for dealerships, BYD will open two dealerships in Los Angeles this year, Bill Wang told me. One will be Glendale; one in El Monte. It will also open a dealership this year in High Point, NC. Next year it plans dealerships in New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Las Vegas, and Miami, FL, he said.
The dealerships will sell BYD’s all-electric e6 crossover and hybrid F3DM sedan. Ten f3DM hybrids are currently part of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles fleet. They will also sell its solar panels, batteries, recharging stations, and LED lighting.
BYD is also bringing its electric buses to the U.S. Indeed, one of its electric buses began operating last month as shuttle between the Hertz Rent-a-Car lot and the terminals at LAX. Jack Hidary, global EV leader for The Hertz Corp., was at the BYD event in Los Angeles. So far so good, he said. Customers like it because it has three doors and is very quiet, said Hidary. It has lived up to expectations thus far, he said.
Hertz is sharing the performance data with BYD.
In this pilot phase, Hertz is using just bus. If all goes well, it will add several more electric buses at LAX and use the electric buses at airports nationwide, said Hidary. This is the first long-range electric bus to be used this way at LAX, he added.
Hertz chose to use BYD’s bus because of its range of 155 miles per charge, said Hidary. That was critical because it must travel between the Hertz lot and all the LAX terminals many times each day. Another attraction: BYD has engineers and staff here in Los Angeles so the support is good, he said. Then there is the cost savings. It costs 65% less to fill up the bus with electricity versus diesel fuel, said Hidary, and “we are always looking to improve our bottom line.”