A recent LA Times article tore into new energy company BYD’s deployed battery electric buses, continuing a trend of screaming about the house being on fire when it’s really just dad out back lighting the barbecue. Looking back in time, the same unfortunate trend of sensationalizing early problems with new technologies can be seen in its coverage of the early issues with 120 CNG buses that LA MTA had to pull when CNG bus technology was going through its own set of growing pains.
But let’s be real here: BYD’s early buses did have their problems and BYD owns up to that. I spoke with BYD Senior Vice President of Heavy Industries Macy Neshati about the issues and he was very up front about the problems with BYD’s early vehicles. He reiterated what BYD President Stella Li said in the company’s initial response to the LA Times article, that issues are to be expected when integrating revolutionary technologies like its electric buses. She pulled no punches:
“As with any groundbreaking technology, issues do arise in manufacturing and performance and BYD aggressively responds and manages these issues, working with our customers and stakeholders.”
Running on Fumes
Journalist for the LA Times Paige St. John showcased her lack of familiarity with the operation of electric vehicles … or any vehicle, for that matter, by calling out the company for a demonstrated range of 147 miles compared to the promised range per charge of 155 miles.
“The company provided its own analysis of Metro’s logs to calculate a theoretical range of 147 miles, less than the promised 155 but in the opinion of BYD, not significantly. To arrive at that range, though, the buses would have to be driven until their batteries were dead — a practice that would severely shorten battery life and strand buses along their routes. BYD recommends operating buses at charge levels from 85% to 15% to preserve battery life, according to a Metro contract evaluation.”
The 147 mile range was the average provided by BYD after it adjusted her original data set to remove outliers, a standard practice in data analysis. Even after receiving the corrected data set, St. John moved forward by not only including the uncorrected data set in her article but going so far as to publish the graph constructed from the uncorrected data … but not the corrected data set.
A Toyota Prius may be able to travel 450 miles on a tank of gas, but I’m sure not going to wait until mile 449 to fill it up with gas. Similarly, I’ve driven electric vehicles until they only have 4 miles of range left … but that’s definitely not the norm, nor would I recommend that others wait that long. Expecting the vehicles to be able to deliver on their promises like stated range is one thing. Expecting that the customer run them up to their maximum range when looking at a full data set simply makes no sense.
Under the Microscope
The LA Times also called out and sensationalized tire fires, making them sound like both uncommon occurrences and explosions:
“The BYD buses returned by Los Angeles went to Columbia, Mo., where transit logs show the mechanical problems continued and extended to new buses from BYD. One morning last May, passengers on a new bus with a history of issues were jolted by an explosion and a wheel fire. BYD’s Neshati blamed the explosion on heat buildup from stuck brake calipers, an issue he said is common on any bus.”
Digging into the data, multiple insurance industry reports and a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration report highlight just how common fires in the wheels of buses truly are. With over 35,000 buses on the road around the world and having sold more plug-in vehicles than any other company in the world for the last 2 years, it’s clear that BYD knows how to build vehicles. Cherry picking one incident and making it look like an unprecedented disaster is misleading and counterproductive — it’s even counterproductive to being taken seriously as a transportation journalist.
Finite Fuel for a Finite Argument
The LA Times article was received well by undercover CNG advocates masquerading as advocates for clean air. Board chair at the Coalition for Clean Air Todd Campbell’s Twitter handle is “CleanEnergyNGV” and couldn’t find time to tweet about the Coalition’s Clean Air awards on May 18th but made a point of calling out zero-emission BYD for hitting a road bump 2 days later.
This is not leadership, this is duplicitous. This is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. This is not an advocate for clean air, this is an oil industry shill that has found its way into the clean air camp as a way of hawking more of a dying, finite resource. This is a disgrace to everything that the Coalition for Clean Air stands for.
Talk about #WrongWayLA! We need to stop spending precious resources on buses that don’t run. #ZeroNow Time to go Near Zero or Subzero. People’s lungs are on the lines until we wake up. https://t.co/wm4SfVZqUk
— Todd Campbell (@CleanEnergyNGV) May 21, 2018
Campbell raises the alarm with a comment that, “people’s lungs are on the lines until we wake up,” insinuating that electric buses somehow harm people’s lungs or can’t replace the entire bus fleet (the much larger Shenzhen bus fleet is now 100% electric).
The natural gas industry, on the other hand, continues to be exposed for higher than reported methane emissions time and time again.
BYD President Stella Li reiterated this sentiment in an email to employees in response to the LA Times article, where she called for them to strengthen their resolve in a fight against the dying fossil fuel industry:
“It is also no surprise to me that critics question our ability to deliver on our mission to change the world by creating a complete clean-energy ecosystem that reduces the world’s reliance on petroleum. We are unequivocally the leader of a movement that will reverse centuries of exploitation of our planet. The entrenched fossil fuel industry leading that exploitation will stop at nothing in their efforts to slow down our progress.”
A Bright Future
Ultimately, the near-term critics cannot stop the inevitable tide of renewables and zero-emission transportation solutions. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that 84% of all new buses sold in 2030 will be electric. Silencing this generation of critics will inevitably give way to another and another, but the transition is occurring. …
Over at BYD, they will stay the course, as they have for years, from their early beginnings as a battery company to their position today as a global EV leader. BYD is accustomed to change and marketplace disruption, having moved from its beginnings in batteries into the general automotive sector and later also solar to fulfill its objective of becoming a new energy company.
“And across the nation, our work moves forward. Yesterday, we signed a contract with the University of Georgia for 21 of our buses. Today, the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) will receive their first of three buses.
“It is undeniable that electrification is the cornerstone of our future. We’re glad you are here with us working to save our planet for future generations.”