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1st Chinese automaker in US to open Calif. plants

John Rogers (via AP/ SMH) | May 2, 2013
The first Chinese-owned vehicle manufacturer in the United States unveiled ambitious plans Wednesday to eventually build as many as 1,000 plug-in electric buses a year at a refurbished RV manufacturing plant in a wind-swept, sage-dotted corner of the Mojave Desert.

At one point, BYD, which stands for Build Your Dreams, had hoped to introduce its e6 model electric passenger cars to the U.S. by 2010, but has since pushed back those plans. Li said after Wednesday's news conference that the company still hopes to eventually market the cars to taxi fleets in the U.S., but she couldn't provide a timeline.

"My plan is 10-year, 20-year," she said of expansion plans, before adding with a laugh: "My target is as soon as possible. My target is I wish we could do it tomorrow."

BYD says its buses can travel 155 miles between charges with a full load of passengers and with the air conditioning on. They are powered by three battery packs with a life of 20 years, said BYD Vice President Michael Austin. That means they should outlast the vehicle itself.

Each bus has 34 passenger seats but has enough standing room to accommodate 60 riders. BYD hopes to sell them to cities, transit agencies and school districts at a price of $100,000 to $200,000 per bus.

Li said BYD officials settled on Lancaster for their first U.S. production facility largely because of the influence of the city's flamboyant mayor, R. Rex Parris, who visited the company's headquarters in Shenzhen not long after being introduced to BYD executives in 2008.

"Every time we met, he was not talking about, 'Put it here or here or here,'" she said of locating the company's plant. "He was talking about creative technology. I was very impressed."

Parris, better known nationally for opening City Council meetings with a prayer, shutting down a hotel where a motorcycle gang was to meet and requiring pit bulls to be castrated, is also a long-time advocate of green technology and developing local trade relations with China.

He successfully pressed the City Council earlier this year to adopt an ordinance requiring that all new homes come with a solar energy system beginning in 2014.

In 2010, he brokered a partnership with BYD and Southern California homebuilder KB Home, which produced a prototype home with a solar-energy system that produces more energy than an average family would consume. That same year, he also persuaded the City Council to hire a Hong Kong native as Lancaster's China trade liaison.

"It's not just about jobs," Parris said of landing the plant in Lancaster, although he quickly added he was happy to get them. "It's about solving global warming."

 

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