BYD’s core competency is batteries, which blossomed as a result of founder, CEO, and Chairman Wang Chuanfu’s technical mastery and eye towards the future. He led BYD into cell phone batteries when cell phones made their entrance into the market (in the ’90s!) and then into laptop battery supply as businesses shifted from desktop computing to portable computing solutions.
Mr. Wang has been a thought leader in technological innovation since he founded BYD back in 1995 as a humble battery company. In the early days, company executives would tote BYD’s products around in suitcases to potential clients in order to land a deal. Nowadays, its products are everywhere, popping up in mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and more from many of the largest manufacturers in the world. The halls of BYD’s welcome center at its headquarters in Shenzhen, China, are lined with the batteries, cases, and components it produces for these industry titans.
BYD’s subtle dominance of the consumer electronic OEM space continues to this day, as BYD is currently the largest mobile phone battery manufacturer. Its market ownership can be seen in other segments as well. It has, for the last two years running, sold more plug-in vehicles than any other manufacturer in the world, for example. But it’s still not a household name in the USA. Nonetheless, BYD keeps its head down and does the research, develops the products, closes the sales, and churns out products for its customers. Whether it’s a cell phone battery for the latest and greatest new smartphone, a backup battery for your home, or a new fully electric taxi destined for Macau, BYD is changing lives every day. I recently got to witness that in person on a trip to BYD’s headquarters in Shenzhen to interview Mr. Wang Chuanfu and others.
Building on its mastery of battery chemistries and technologies, BYD has spun up new product lines in battery management systems (BMS), mobile electronics, screen technologies, and even portable electronics cases for many mainstream phone, tablet, and laptop manufacturers. BYD’s name stands for Build Your Dreams, which syncs up nicely with its ability to look several steps ahead of current technologies and build its business for the technologies of tomorrow.
BYD doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to its mission. After all, that’s built right into its name: Build Your Dreams. BYD leader Wang Chuanfu shared this same sentiment when I spoke with him, noting:
“We strive to help people realize their longing for a better life through technical innovation. Just like what we’ve been doing, we will keep making contributions with green transportation solutions and across the whole clean energy industry with our impressive technologies. And we firmly believe that we have the ability to do so.”
Dreams have a funny way of evolving as technologies evolve and humanity learns more about the impact legacy technologies like coal-fired power generation and diesel combustion engines have had on the planet. BYD’s business strategy and execution to date have made it clear that BYD sees a future where all transportation is electric, all energy comes from renewable sources and can then be stored for use at a later time.
It has built an impressive portfolio of new energy products in electrified transportation, photovoltaic solar panel production, and an impressive array of stationary energy storage products for residential, commercial, and grid-scale applications that leverage BYD’s non-toxic lithium-iron-phosphate battery chemistry — the foundation for its thermally stable, long lasting products.
The connection between BYD’s roots as a battery company and a new energy company might not make sense at first, but digging into the details, it is clear that there is a common thread connecting its energy storage products, solar products, and automotive businesses. Mr. Wang talked me through it:
“Those look like different businesses, but the key for all of them is the battery. They all depend on energy storage. Electric vehicles are replacing petrol vehicles and require energy storage to do this. It’s the same case for solar power. They are actually all about batteries. We set up the extended businesses to meet these demands and better serve society.”
Mr. Wang saw this common thread early on and shaped BYD’s business model for its new energy future in the early years. “BYD is a company that values technology and we have an engineering-oriented culture. We are also a company of innovation.”
He continued, “when we saw China’s huge demand and market potential for new energy, we also discovered some problems along the way. To solve these problems, we positioned ourselves to be a company dedicated to the development of new energy and clean energy technologies.”
Tesla garners headlines in the mainstream media and finds its vehicles adorning Facebook feeds and desktop wallpaper around the world because it chose to attack personal vehicles from the top of the market down. BYD took a different tack and chose to focus on fleet vehicles not because they were sexier than personal vehicles or because they could sell more batteries but because they could make a larger impact in emissions. Mr. Wang shared more behind the strategy:
“The volume of commercial vehicles is not high, but the oil consumption and pollution they cause is significant. Even though there are more personal vehicles on roads, they are used fewer hours per day, so they use less petrol and generate less pollution. This is why we focus our efforts on commercial vehicles. For example, the emissions and petrol consumption of a bus in a single day is the same as that of 30 personal vehicles. That’s why we started with commercial vehicles like buses, taxis, and trucks and developed BYD’s ‘Electrification of Public Transportation’ strategy.”
This pragmatic approach to products and to the markets it moves into are foundational to understanding BYD. On campus at BYD’s Industrial Park in Shenzhen, China, it is clear that BYD isn’t just talking the talk about using its products, but rather, BYD puts it products to use en masse at its expansive campus and is truly walking the cleantech walk.
Driving into the gates at the BYD industrial park in Shenzhen is akin to entering the gates of Disneyland. Futuristic electric vehicles buzz silently around the property in every which direction like busy bees, each laser-focused on its own destination and purpose. Internal combustion vehicles are the rare exception to the silent dance, with each standing out as the deviant from the otherwise peaceful processional, as if it were inadvertently let onto the property.
BYD’s SkyRail installation frames the entrance with its monorail and main station perched 10 meters overhead, starting just inside the main gate. The sleek SkyRail train glides silently out of the cocoon-like station, picking up speed as it heads off towards the next stop on the test track. Its rubber wheels glide silently along the single cement monorail in a combination that keeps SkyRail operating with a minimal footprint while at the same time keeping the noise generated down to levels significantly lower than traditional metal-on-metal light rail systems.
SkyRail was first shared with the world in 2016 when BYD announced that it would be manufacturing the system 100% in-house in order to deliver it at a total installed cost that is one-fifth the cost of subway systems and can be installed in one-third the time. Further enhancing the allure of the overhead transportation system, it takes up essentially no ground footprint, with the supporting pillars designed to be installed in the center median of existing roads.
To demonstrate just how practical SkyRail is, BYD installed a demonstration line on its own property in just 4 months, with work underway on a second phase of the system which will connect a handful of critical hubs in BYD’s industrial park.
Just up the road, a bank of BYD’s containerized energy storage units have been installed to demonstrate their ability to store and discharge significant amounts of energy. Each container is capable of storing more than 1 MWh of energy.
This particular installation was brought in as part of the SkyRail demonstration system as a backup for SkyRail. It ensures the system will continue to have power even in the event of a grid failure. BYD’s containerized storage products are being installed all over the world and serve to highlight BYD’s focus on products that are deployed at scale: transit buses, medium- and heavy-duty trucks, taxis, electrified rail systems, and utility-scale solar systems.
BYD Walks the Talk
BYD doesn’t bother hyping up its products with the media or in over-produced commercials. In fact, it is quite the contrary with BYD. It continues to focus on leveraging its technical mastery to develop and deliver breakthrough products that customers can purchase and install to bring about meaningful environmental, functional, and cost-effective change today. As Tesla was busy getting the world press all frothed up about its Tesla Semi at its massive event in Hawthorne, California, BYD was hard at work delivering its own fully electric Class 8 trucks to Loblaws in Canada. BYD is making the products the rest of the world is only talking about, even including Tesla.
The two companies operate largely in different market segments of electrified transportation, with the Tesla Semi being the single exception. BYD’s products are largely geared towards fleet applications, while Tesla builds primarily luxury and higher end vehicles that compete with the likes of Mercedes, BMW, and Maserati. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a good tag-team effort.
As Tesla struggles to ramp up production of its Model 3, BYD has already converted numerous cities to fully electric bus and taxi fleets, including the enormous bus fleet in its home city of Shenzhen, China. These vehicles have transformed the city. Instead of a bustling metropolis of more than 10 million residents with streets filled with the usual sounds of gurgling diesel buses and the moist, noxious exhaust that are familiar smells and sounds to city dwellers around the world, you get a city of eerie silence. Massive city transit buses glide around the city silently in a delicate dance. They move residents around as part of a truly modern transportation system.
BYD Vehicles are Gaining Traction
Cities around China are following suit, with Beijing announcing plans to convert its fleet of 70,000 taxis to electric vehicles over the coming years and the city of Taiyuan converting its entire fleet of over 8,000 taxis to fully electric BYD e6 vehicles. Shenzhen itself has committed to fully electrifying its taxi fleet this year. At the beginning of the year, 62.5% of the 12,518 taxis were already fully electric.
BYD doesn’t brag too much about its successes. Instead, it keeps its head down and continues forward with product after product and project after project. Shipping some of its e6 electric taxis to nearby Macau, followed by a handful of electric buses in Portugal, and bringing its high-tech transportation solutions to posh Santa Barbara, California, BYD is sharing its solutions with the world.
BYD has created an entire ecosystem of clean energy solutions that customers can buy today. They are not concepts slated for 2020, 2030, or beyond, but real commercial products that are reducing emissions in cities around the world.
This reality is visible in BYD’s home city of Shenzhen more than anywhere else. Now that the city has converted its entire fleet of transit buses to electric, more than 16,000 fully electric buses silently zooming around the city make it an experience unmatched anywhere else in the world. Compare this to the meager hundreds of electric buses in the entire United States and it is clear where the transition is happening and who is leading.
The BYD electric buses are complemented with a mass of blue and white BYD e6 taxis that together serve to reduce emissions and vehicle noise, which is greatly appreciated in a city of more than 10 million residents. Shenzhen is not alone in going all-in on electric vehicles, but it is clearly the leader in the transition of its transit system to fully electric solutions.
BYD’s solutions are not the future, they are current technologies that we will continue to use far into the future. “The future is now,” as we like to say here on CleanTechnica. Adopting old technology like petrol buses or even hybrid buses only serves to anchor buyers in the past instead of taking them one more step into the future.
Images by Kyle Field for CleanTechnica and Masdar
*This article was written for Masdar as part of a Zayed Sustainability Prize effort to highlight the impact made by past winners of the prize. All travel was paid for by Masdar.
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