Chinese Automaker BYD Planning US Launch Next Year

Following through on plans postponed in 2010, Chinese electric and conventional automaker BYD says it will launch four new models to U.S. showrooms by late next year.

Its plans follow other Chinese automakers with eyes on the U.S. market, and the company actually already has a U.S. presence with intent to begin production this March of electric buses at its Lancaster, Calif. factory.

BYD’s automotive efforts are focused largely on electric cars, and the company is backed by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. It has spent three years reorganizing, reducing its number of dealerships to cut losses, and develop its products.

In an interview in China with Automotive News, the company’s senior vice president in charge of the its U.S. business, Stella Li, said BYD has improved its financial strength and competitive advantages.

“BYD has become more fashionable and we have improved our design and safety,” said Li, “We don’t want to compete on price anymore, but on quality and innovation.”

Li said the likely premier model it will introduce to U.S. buyers is one it just launched at home, the Qin plug-in hybrid. It’s named after the dynasty of the Chinese emperor who unified the country, and starts at 189,800 yuan ($31,400) before government subsidies.

What it would sell for in the U.S. is not known, but performance is 0-62 mph in 5.9 seconds, about equal to the 60-kwh Tesla Model S, and electric only range is said to be a Chevy Volt-beating 43.5 miles.

Previous plans postponed in 2010 were to sell its electric e6, which has been imported to other countries for consumers and taxi fleet duty, but what else it will launch in late-2015 was not shared.

Its efforts coincide with those of Geely, which reportedly plans in 2016 to launch cars developed along with Volvo, which its parent company owns.

Another company with possible aspirations for the U.S. market is China’s largest SUV maker, Great Wall Motor. It has said it does not have an official time-frame for this move, however.

Meanwhile Li said BYD is finding less resistance launching its electric k9 buses and e6 cars in markets other than Shanghai or Beijing.

Li told Automotive News BYD was politically blocked from qualifying for local incentives in these major Chinese cities as local authorities are protecting local manufacturers. BYD is a relative outsider from Shenzhen in southern Guangdong province.

“It’s disheartening as a Chinese to see how local interests are holding back the adoption of electric vehicles,” Li said. “It’s easier to sell our buses and cars to Sao Paulo, California or Israel than in Beijing and Shanghai. And those places have better air than China.”

Tempering the positive plans is the observation from Shanghai –based Han Weiqi, an analyst with CSC International Holdings Ltd.

Weiqi said BYD has a track record of announcing bigger plans than what it can deliver.

Whether that is true or not, industry watchers have been bracing for not if but when the Chinese automakers would make actual moves toward the U.S.

U.S. automakers wishing to do business in China must partner with a government-sponsored joint-venture partner, or face stiff tariffs.

The U.S. does not impose such restrictions on Chinese automakers, and it appears BYD intends to take the country up on its opportunities.

Its move follows inroads taken by other Asian imports in automotive history, most recently being Hyundai and Kia.

There were quality and teething issues, political and other concerns, but Hyundai and Kia are now in a relatively strong position, and growing.

It appears 2015 is the year BYD sets up shop, and we’ll see whether it can hit the ground running, or how much stumbling is involved.

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