Electric Buses Good For CA? Not If Made By Chinese Company, It Seems

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BYD electric buses

BYD electric buses

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We might live in a global economy, but in periods of economic downturn people like to know they're supporting their own country's economy.

That's why some are a little displeased by Long Beach Transit's decision to buy ten elecric buses--made by a Chinese company.

According to The Press-Telegram, the buses were bought under a $12.1 million contract to supply the city with electric public transport--but despite a South Carolina firm being in the running for the contract, it went to BYD (Build Your Dreams) Motors from China.

Marc Gottschalk, chief business development officer and general counsel of Greenville, S.C.-based and General Motors-backed Proterra, sent Long Beach officials a letter questioning why BYD, a company with "a history of overpromising and under-delivering" got the bus contract instead of his own.

"No U.S. content"

Gottschalk says that BYD's bus "has virtually no U.S.-made content, has no U.S. manufacturing (and) has no buses in revenue service in the United States."

He added, "Long Beach Transit has at its disposal the second largest federal grant ever awarded for the deployment of electric buses.

"That it would go to a Chinese company that 'plans' to complete Altoona testing and 'plans' to build a U.S. manufacturing plant and 'plans' to be Buy America-compliant someday in the future and has a record of making false and unreliable public statements - is unfathomable."

It's a sentiment echoed by others, not just those who missed out on contracts. U.S. Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) weighed in, saying "Although the choice of all electric vehicles is a positive step and should be a point of pride for Long Beach, outsourcing to manufacturing to China raises serious concerns.

"I would hope that the transit board would reconsider purchasing American-made alternatives" he added.

Others are less surprised - "Residents may be appalled at the City of Long Beach decision to contract for buses from BYD, but the City has previously made odd decisions favoring foreign-based automakers," said Long Beach resident and auto writer Michelle Naranjo.

"Those include courting BYD and Korean owned C&T Motors with tax credits to move their North American import headquarters to the former Boeing plant, at the same time it was trying to get Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk to choose Long Beach as the site to manufacture the Model S electric luxury sport sedan."

BYD responds

Micheal Austin, BYD America vice president, fired a shot back at Gottschalk's criticism of BYD: "This is clearly a smear tactic... I don't think Proterra's general counsel has any credibility in speaking about BYD.

"BYD has far more experience with electric buses than any other competitor, Proterra included, and has far more experience designing buses, shipping buses and building buses than Proterra ever could."

Austin also added that BYD does produce the buses in the U.S, securing American jobs. The Chinese firm is even looking into building a facility in Long Beach itself.

While the technology for electric buses is still at an early stage, the new buses are cleaner than existing natural gas or diesel buses, and could prove cheaper to run.

Long Beach Transit secured the $12.1 million to run a pilot program with the buses, on a small route making stops at the Queen Mary, the Aquarium of the Pacific, the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center and Pine Avenue.

The BYD contract is unlikely to change until the Long Beach Transit Board has more information. Two study sessions are being held, to discuss the concerns raised before holding a vote.

At the end of the day, says Board chair Barbara Sullivan, "We wanted to fully understand what was included in the decision and also understand the whole nature of the electric bus phenomenon around the world.... Our decision is to become informed and to make the best solution we can based on what we feel our needs are."


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