Published on June 1st, 2018 | by Kyle Field0
BYD Opens Up About Its Electric Truck Plans (CleanTechnica Exclusive)
June 1st, 2018 by Kyle Field
BYD makes the news here at CleanTechnica regularly for its electric buses, taxis and cars that offer clean air options to cities and consumers around the world. We haven’t talked a lot about its trucks and what the new energy giant is working on behind the scenes with its trucks around the world…until now.
We caught up with BYD’s Jack Symington to talk about what the current deployment of BYD trucks looks like around the world and what spaces the company is moving into first as it builds out use cases and platforms for companies around the world to build fleets around.
Many of BYD’s trucks have completed Phase One testing and the company has Phase Two production-ready vehicles already being offered by salesmen around the world. BYD’s recent sale of 200 electric refuse trucks in Brazil and 500 refuse trucks in China are evidence of just how fast the vehicles start moving when they’re available for customers. Those are deals that were inked this year, in 2018, not something far off in the future.
BYD is new to the electric truck game and as such, is heavily focused on vetting use cases, product development and ensuring those products are refined as they are prepared for production. It does this by working with air districts and interested customers on pilots that are often funded by grants to build a set of ‘Phase One’ vehicles that are then sent out into the field for use in real production environments.
As issues arise, as they inevitably do with early product builds, refinements are made. After a series of pilot projects, the learnings are then rolled into a Phase Two build that is ready for production and made available for sale.
Chassis for all trucks sold in North American markets are manufactured in China and shipped to BYD’s Lancaster, California, factory for final assembly. In parallel, BYD’s battery cells are shipped to Lancaster where they are assembled into vehicle-ready battery modules.
Those two building blocks allow BYD to perform the final assembly for its trucks, including the addition of DOT-spec parts that just don’t make sense to put on in China.
BYD knows from its experience with transit buses that fleet managers need a vehicle that is tailored to their needs and vehicle customization is even more important in the world of trucking. Jack shared that just in the early pilots with yard tractors, they’ve found that different rail yards and different ports have different requirements that the vehicles must comply with to be useful, so BYD is adapting.
A Wide Range of Offerings
BYD is developing a wide-ranging offering across the major classes of heavy trucks. Jack gave an overview of what is already in the works at BYD:
- Class 8: Refuse truck, street sweeper (not yet available in North America), rail yard/yard tractor, mining (not yet available in North America) and construction vehicles (not yet available in North America).
- Class 6: Refuse truck (currently being used by Los Angeles sanitation and the City of Calgary), refrigerated trucks (produce delivery, dairy delivery), box truck.
- Class 5: Refrigeration (mostly for home delivery), box truck, service trucks on the yard.
New Product Development
Over the last 12 months, BYD has kicked off a number of grant-funded pilots to validate the use cases of its tech with customers and to put the final polish on BYD’s first trucks out in the field before scaling up sales and manufacturing. Jack talked about the technology demonstrations, noting that “we have had 6-8 of these that are anywhere from 2 trucks to 25 trucks.” The test are a tight partnership between the customer, the California Air Resource Board (CARB) or the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and BYD’s truck team.
Most of the pilots currently underway make use of BYD’s first generation of trucks and are targeted at the ideal operating conditions for electric vehicles – low speed, short distance operations like drayage trucks, yard dogs, refuse trucks and urban delivery trucks. “We see a lot of use cases in these industries where trucks get very low, low miles per gallon,” Jack shared. The inefficiency of internal combustion powertrains in these environments also means that electrifying these vehicles often have the highest financial returns.
BYD’s truck team is currently working on a refrigerated grocery delivery vehicle that they hope to have in the hands of customers in the late summer months of this year. Looking past the Phase 1 designs, BYD is finalizing the designs of the production-ready trucks for each vehicle type over the next few months: “We are now building feedback into phase 2 designs that will make it to customers in December 2018 or January 2019.”
Beyond its current plans, BYD is looking to follow market demand. Jack shared that, “If the demand is there, we are open to working with other body builders to put their bodies on our frames.” Most of the work to date in North America has been translating the vehicles BYD already builds for the Chinese market to North American specs. “There are differences in weight requirements on the road in China vs the US,” Jack shared. “Bringing the vehicles here takes work and that’s what we’re doing now.”
The bulk of the trucks BYD has developed in the 3 years it has been working on them are only now starting to mature. Jack related that BYD is in no rush to get its products to market but instead, is looking to validate that the market is there and that the prototypes it has built are solid, with real world testing under their belts before the trucks team looks to scale up. Having said that, many of its vehicles are at that point and ready – or will soon be ready – to move into full-scale production.
Speaking about the North American market, BYD is taking it slow to ensure its final designs represent solid products that have a place with potential customers. “All of the trucks we have on the road right now and all the trucks we’ll have on the road by the end of 2018 (70 or so) are in Southern California or in the bay area.”
BYD is clearly a leader in its home country, China but it is also expanding aggressively abroad as well. Jack shared that in terms of BYD’s big markets, “China is number 1. BYD is the largest manufacturer of electric vehicles in the world and no one knows them because it’s all in China.”
At CleanTechnica, we are constantly digging around for as much news on what BYD is doing around the world but China is all but invisible when it comes to BYD’s shipments there. Of course, we saw the impressive work that has been done in Shenzhen first hand in January when we visited BYD on a separate project but we would love to get more insight into what BYD is doing there and share it with the world.
Outside of China, BYD’s China-based team is pushing to make inroads in India and already has a sales presence in Europe. A few sales have taken place in in London, Portugal, and the company has opened two bus assembly factories in Europe as well. BYD sees the increasingly hostile climate in Europe towards diesel as a potential opportunity to expand its footprint in the coming years as European cities increasingly move away from traditional diesel transit buses for electric alternatives.
Down in South America, BYD has similarly made progress with bus and taxi deals as well as a very recent deal for its refuse trucks in Brazil. It is moving into South America in much the same way that it is into Europe with a local bus assembly factory in Brazil that complements its nearby solar panel factory.
In North America, BYD has big plans for its factory in Southern California where land is cheap and it has plenty of room to grow. The recent expansion already gives the company plenty of room to breathe and allows for expansion into truck assembly when the time is right.
BYD is clearly leading the clean energy revolution around the world, taking the #1 spot in global plug-in vehicle sales for the last two years and plenty of evidence that it will continue to gobble up new market segments with its trucks.
Jack closed with a statement that summed up what the company is looking to achieve with its trucks. “We want to show people that these trucks are reliable and that there’s really no different with trucks they’ve operated in the past.” Time will tell if BYD is successful in that regard or not but it’s clear from recent criticisms that the journey to create a fleet of high efficiency, high reliability electric vehicles for the masses will be an uphill battle.