Without realizing it you’re already using products of the Chinese firm BYD: the batteries in your smartphone from any of the well-known brands. Already since the company’s establishment in 1995 the perfect energy storage has been the basis for several other products, in the last decade electric buses and cars as particularly promising applications. “Within the next 3 to 5 years the future with 100 percent electric transport could already begin”, says managing director Isbrand Ho. “But no one knows exactly when it will be. We’ll see. I’m optimistic.”
In his office at the industrial park Rotterdam Noord-West staff numbers are growing steadily and he is already looking forward to a larger location. “This is the headquarters for our European expansion. Already, the first electric taxi is in service at the Rotterdamse Taxibedrijf (RTC) with a range of 300 km. We won a tender to supply 35 electric buses to Schiphol, which will be delivered in 2014. BYD had already made itself a name by delivering six e-buses to Schiermonnikoog. And currently we are in negotiations with some more municipalities. Small steps that can very quickly become very big.
Because the Swiss are also interested in electric taxis. Together with Germany’s Daimler we will present a new model at the end of this year, the Denza, let’s say the more intelligent and evironment-friendly alternative to the Smart. We’re not (yet) targeting general consumers but rather fleet owners, such as taxi companies, airports, bus companies and hotels. In this way a great number of people can experience electric transport as being safe, comfortable, fast and very clean and economical.”
He proudly points to a new achievement: As the first Chinese automotive company, BYD has attained the highest safety rating by being awarded 5 stars C-NCAP (comparable to the Euro NCAP) for the F5 Suri. This type can now call itself “China’s safest car”. This is not surprising because BYD is an engineering enterprise powered by cutting-edge technology which forms the basis of all its products.
A global company
That this is a sound commercial basis is reflected in the growth of the staff. Established in 1995 with a staff of 20, the company now employs 180 000 people full-time and had a 2012 turnover of 6, 5 billion dollars. “We’re a global company”, continues Ho, “with branches and offices all over the world. The headquarters is in Shenzen near Hongkong, where we’re listed on the stock exchange. The closest production facilities for Europe are at the moment still Cairo and in Russia, but if and when demand for buses and taxis picks up, we’ll start producing within Europe. And we haven’t even begun to tap the consumers’ market … There we’re going to focus on the A-segment, hence the collaboration with Daimler.”
BYD initally began with normal petrol-powered cars, quickly followed by hybrids and, since recently, by 100 percent electric models. “Our point of departure are the batteries developed by us, unlike a normal car manufacturer who now also wants to add an electric car to his product range. We acquire the other components from the best car parts suppliers such as Bosch, we don’t need to make them ourselves. We’re top-notch in energy storage, that’s why our e-cars and e-buses are so good. We continue improving them, making them cleaner and more environment-friendly.”
Further top segments at BYD comprise IT parts for mobiles of all the big brands, software, LED and photovoltaics: energy storage in ever stronger batteries. For Barcelona the company is working on energy storage on a city-district level, so that poor districts can profit from cheap solar energy. This is done under the motto “You can sustain yourself”, because, after all, BYD stands for “Build Your Dreams”.
The Dutch connection
Ho, who trained as an engineer in the USA, has been working in Rotterdam for 8 months now, but how did he get the very Dutch name Isbrand? He laughs and tells us that his father was on business in our country around the time he was supposed to be born. Dutch friends spontaneously started to think of names for his soon-to-be-born son, which was something that appealed to father Ho.
This year, contacts between the Rotterdam Investment Agency and BYD, which had already existed for years, led to a visit by Mayor Aboutaleb to a BYD factory in Shanghai.
“The Mayor took an electric ride there and was very enthusiastic about the potential in Rotterdam for buses and taxis. Public transport will become our most important short-term spearhead. If you want to reduce pollution in a large city, that’s where you need to start. In addition, electric transport is image-enhancing and very favourable for a city’s ‘green image’.
Isbrand lives in Schiedam and experiences the Dutch as very open. He finds life here very healthy and he meets a lot of highly-educated staff. “BYD needs them just as much as car mechanics and office personnel. At the moment, 10 percent of our staff of 40 are Dutch, and this percentage needs to increase. We work and live here, earn our money here, so you can’t just keep having an all-Chinese staff. Local people know their way about Rotterdam much better, know where they can get the best for the lowest price. And you have to get to know the culture. For instance, I’ve just been to see the Rotterdam Port Days and was very impressed indeed.”
Republished with permission from Rotterdam Investment Agency