Electric Car Company Opens Downtown Headquarters Los Angeles …

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BYD Electric Cars Electric Cars

BYD Chairman Chuanfu Wang

Posted: Monday, October 24, 2011 4:01 pm | Updated: 5:01 pm, Mon Oct 24, 2011.

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES — A faded car dealership moved into the automotive and green technology future today, as business and political leaders from two continents came together in Downtown Los Angeles.

At a morning ceremony at 1800 S. Figueroa St. officials from Shenzen, China-based BYD, along with the mayor of Shenzen Province and other government leaders, teamed with their Los Angeles counterparts to cut the ribbon on the North American headquarters for the company that manufactures electric vehicles, solar power systems, rechargeable batteries and LED lighting. The move will ultimately create approximately 150 management and engineering jobs in Downtown, though there are far fewer now.

Chuanfu Wang, the chairman of BYD, said that the Downtown location will be the base of the company’s North American fleet sales for electric cars and buses. The facility will also house BYD’s research and development arms that will create versions of their cars for the U.S. market.

It will also be our solar and LED business headquarters with a focus on marketing, sales, technical support, local product design, training and after-sales support, Wang said in an English translation of his remarks.

Perhaps more importantly, the Figueroa Street headquarters will be a beachhead for one of China’s largest companies, with more than 200,000 employees worldwide, and possibly for a wave of Chinese businesses looking for a presence in North America.

It’s the bell cow, said Austin Beutner, who during his time as a top deputy to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa oversaw the deal for the city. Beutner is currently running for mayor.

They are a market leader, Beutner continued. I’ve personally gotten many phone calls from Chairman Wang and his colleagues to introduce me to other CEOs in Shenzen who’d like to talk about Los Angeles and the opportunity.

Corridor Comeback

BYD, which stands for Build Your Dreams, was founded in 1995 with 20 employees. Wang has overseen tremendous growth for the company, which has offices in countries including Denmark, India, Hungary, the Netherlands and South Korea. During his address, Villaraigosa noted that Wang has been described as a combination of Thomas Edison and former General Electric head Jack Welch.

The label came from Business Week magazine.

While the company may be unfamiliar to many Angelenos, it is no stranger to financiers. It is 50% owned by interests in the United States. Investor Warren Buffett owns 10% of the company through a subsidiary of his Berkshire Hathaway.

Charlie Munger, vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, said at the event that BYD is helping China become not just a quick learner from the West, but an inventor that could lead the West in some fields.

The deal is the latest step in the evolution of the Figueroa Corridor, which has long housed a concentration of auto dealerships, but is now seeing growth at its southern end related to USC, and development on the north tied to L.A. Live. The BYD headquarters a few blocks south of the Convention Center is owned by prominent area landlord the Shammas Group.

In the 1920s, said Darryl Holter, CEO of the Shammas Group, the property was home to the White Motor Company. Before BYD came in, the building was vacant and did not meet earthquake standards for commercial structures. Holter called the fact that the site will again house a business anchored in auto sales pretty significant.

They provide the largest selling electric sedan in China, Holter said, referencing the more than 1 million cars customers have purchased. Although they’re not ready to try to enter the American market with their small vehicles, which is a very hard market to intervene in, they may be able to do that in the next few years.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose Ninth District includes Downtown, touted the potential benefits for the area.

BYD has finally brought the cutting edge technology to Auto Row here on the Figueroa Corridor, said Perry, who is also running for mayor. This was a unique public-private partnership, and I think it bodes well for us in the future.

Doing the Deal

BYD’s automotive products include the e6, a five-seat electric car that can travel more than 185 miles on a charge. It also manufactures the S6DM, an SUV.

Other company products include iron-phosphate batteries that do not contain hazardous or toxic residue, and solar energy systems and LED lighting packages for commercial and residential users.

At the Downtown event, the company announced a partnership with Hertz to create electric buses for their shuttles at LAX. It will also manufacture electric cars for Hertz’s Los Angeles rental fleet.

While the opening of the BYD headquarters was widely celebrated, it was no simple feat. Beutner noted that at his first meeting with company officials, they said they were not interested in locating in the city of Los Angeles. One deterrent, which Villaraigosa also mentioned, was a 12-inch stack of documents detailing city regulations and other matters.

Beutner helped persuade Wang not to reject the city out of hand. He hosted a dinner at his house for the chairman and other BYD officials, inviting a batch of prominent Los Angeles civic leaders with which to mingle. During a follow-up meeting with the company, he brought together 12 city department heads. He gave them explicit instructions in responding to questions or requests.

They boiled down to never saying no.

I said you can say, ‘Yes, we will,’ or you can say, ‘Yes, we’ll look,’ Beutner recalled. ‘Yes, we’ll look’ doesn’t imply we can or can’t. It just means we’re going to make an effort to try to understand and see what we can do.

Incentives the city provided to close the deal included some things others can receive, such as a 15% tariff reduction for BYD cars shipped through the Port of Los Angeles — all zero emission vehicles can get that benefit. Other offerings were tailored specifically to the company, such as a guaranty that those who buy electric cars will receive a battery charger in their home within a week. The city also promised to showcase a BYD car at LAX.

Additionally, improvements to the sidewalks and a repaving of the street took place.

The deal was publicly announced in April 2010.

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