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BYD is going from buses to exotic supercars — all EVs

BYD has serious advantages of talent and scope, but also problems in some cities

Inside the Shanghai Auto Show
Inside the Shanghai Auto Show / Image Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images
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Earlier this week, BYD introduced the E-SEED GT, a concept car, at the Shanghai Auto Show. It is, as most things that had their moments in the spotlight at that event, an electric vehicle.

There are a couple things to know about BYD, which is based on providing "zero emissions energy solutions," some of which take the form of production vehicles like the Song Pro SUV and various electric sedans, as well as potential vehicles, like the E-SEED GT, which is said to be designed with the company's new Dragon Face design language.

One is that the company was founded in 1995 with 20 employees and today has some 240,000. It's the world's biggest maker of electric vehicles. That is a remarkable ramp by any measure.

And the other is that the designers who were instrumental in the development of the E-SEED GT are Wolfgang Egger, BYD global design director; JuanMa Lopez, BYD global exterior design director, and Michele Jauch-Paganetti, BYD global interior design director. Egger had previously been the head of design at Audi, Lopez the head of exterior design at Ferrari, Jauch-Paganetti the design director at Mercedes-Benz Italia Advanced Design. Arguably, something of a design dream team.

Which is to say that this company based in Guangzhou has both extensive resources and extensive talent.
Wang Chuanfu, chairman and president of BYD, is reported to have said during a press conference associated with the introduction of the concept car, "To meet the arrival of complete electrification, BYD has formulated a series of strategies, and is well prepared. BYD's latest offerings will bring you a whole new experience, while delivering new power to Chinese cars!"

China has imposed what is called the New Energy Vehicle mandate that calls for the sales of 4.6 million electric vehicles by 2020. And going forward, presumably, there will be efforts to eliminate the internal combustion engine for "complete electrification" of the fleet.

It is worth noting that for BYD, it isn't all about curvaceous concepts.

Also this week the company announced that it has delivered a BYD 8R Class 8 Automated Side Loader (ASL) to Waste Resources, which will use the truck in Carson, California.

Yes, an electric garbage truck.

Not all products that the company is involved with use the Dragon Face design language, nor are they all for the China market. In January, BYD announced the production of its 50,000th electric bus. Not only are these buses on the streets of Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Changsha and Xian, but also in London and Los Angeles.

Buses and garbage trucks don't get a whole lot of attention, but they represent tremendous markets for the companies that build them.

It must be noted, however, that it is not all sweetness and light on that front, as BYD has grappled with some U.S. transit agency's standards for quality and performance. According to an investigation in the Los Angeles Times last year, the first five BYD buses in that city were "pulled off the road after less than five months of service."

Southern California transit agencies have awarded more than $330 million to BYD in contracts, grants and subsidies to provide buses and other electric vehicles, but the Times investigation found that the vehicles were plagued by mechanical breakdowns, required far more service than the diesel buses they were replacing, and that their range performance in Los Angeles, instead of 155 miles per charge as promised, was averaging under 50 miles most months.

Range shortfalls were not as severe in other Southern California municipalities but were still dozens of miles under what was promised. Solano County, Calif., noted the buses had difficulty climbing hills and had to reassign them to flat routes.

The LAT report also documented BYD's efforts to woo Mayor Eric Garcetti, who championed the use of BYD's vehicles while Metro evaluators were rating them as "unqualified" or "marginal."

The LAT reporting found similar problems with BYD buses in other cities such as Columbia, Mo., and Albuquerque, where buses experienced a host of issues including cracked frames. More recently, Albuquerque demanded BYD take back 15 buses and sued the company, declaring the buses unsafe.

Frank Girardot, BYD's North American communications director, said in an email that "in the year that has passed since publication of the L.A. Times article, BYD has not only made great strides toward improvement, but is also receiving repeat orders from its customers. Certainly that speaks to the reliability of the product."

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