Will the World’s Top Electric Car Company Commit to America?

byd bus full
Source: BYD

Build Your Dreams, better known by the acronym and company name BYD, is the largest seller of plug-in vehicles in the world. The Chinese-based company moved over 60,000 electric cars in 2015 without having a single model in U.S. dealerships. However, BYD has only established itself as an electric bus provider on the West Coast. Should it figure out a way to bring its top-selling Qin to America, company officials rightfully see huge potential for its products.

BYD, which has backing from Warren Buffett, posted a number of sales records last year, including its 10,000 plug-in sales in December. (By comparison, the entire U.S. plug-in market had 7,881 sales in February 2016.) The automaker had very strong showings with its plug-in hybrid sedans and SUV as well as its pure electric e6, a model that has found its way into a few taxi fleets around the U.S.

The Chinese BYD E6 electric car is displayed during the the second press preview day at the 2010 North American International Auto Show on January 12, 2010 at Cobo Center in Detroit. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

According to BYD America Vice President Michael Austin (per Autoblog), this type of fleet customer is easier for the company to handle without a full parts and distribution network. BYD is also skeptical of the potential for EVs without a more robust charging infrastructure for U.S. drivers to access. (Join the club.) Nonetheless, Austin told Autoblog the Qin, which can crack 60 miles per hour in five seconds, would be “a game-changer” in America.

Looking at the specs of some of BYD’s electric models, you can see why this statement is far from the bluster so common this election season.  The e6, listed as a taxi on the BYD site, is quoted at a range of 250 miles (i.e., the equivalent of a Tesla Model S). A 40-foot electric coach bus it will sell to California municipalities has a range of 190 miles and the potential for wireless charging.

Source: BYD

In February, the Antelope Valley Transportation Authority (AVTA) of Northern Los Angeles awarded BYD a contract for 85 electric buses in the coming years, which would give the AVTA the nation’s first all-EV fleet. Each bus can cover a minimum of 160 miles on electric power and have charging capabilities to make them feasible for the most rural routes.

AVTA said it should save as much as $46,000 per year per bus — and $46 million over the fleet’s lifetime — when looking the cost of diesel buses. Grants available to businesses switching to plug-in vehicles are more substantial than the incentives available to private EV consumers in California, which can make the upfront cost more palatable.

Going by the specs of its top-selling Chinese models and the upcoming suite of electric buses stateside, BYD has a winning formula for producing zero-emissions models. Let’s hope the automaker can put together a support network that can make it happen. The U.S. market could use another player with a focus on the mass market.

Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY