The Biden Administration wants more electric vehicles on American roads. It wants those vehicles to be manufactured in the US and it wants them built by union workers. BYD has a bus and truck factory in Lancaster, California, where it also makes batteries for the vehicles it manufactures. California, when last we checked, is still in the United States, though many members of Team Red might wish it were not. It so happens that all the production workers at the BYD factory in Lancaster are members of a labor union. That should make BYD high on the list of companies Team Blue wants to reward in the latest infrastructure funding bill, right?
Nope. The Washington Post reports a ban on federal transit funding for manufacturers linked to China goes into effect Monday. That ban may prevent BYD from selling its electric buses to public transit agencies across the country. Frank Girardot, a BYD spokesperson, described the company as a global business with American investors that happens to be headquartered in China. He claims the company is being unfairly targeted by the US government. “We’re not China,” he said. “We’re a private company. We’re a union company.”
Federal transit officials say the funding ban won’t slow the transition to electric buses, but that is patently false. BYD is a major player in the industry. Almost every purchase of electric buses is subsidized by federal, state, or local funding. Excluding BYD gives the lie to the Biden Administration’s chest-thumping about wanting America to transition to zero emissions transportation.
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio is chairman of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. He says he doesn’t take levying restrictions on a unionized company lightly. “[I]t’s simply a false choice to think that the deployment of electric buses means we must rely upon Chinese state-supported enterprises in perpetuity. Plenty of electric, pollution-free buses can and will be made in the U.S., including by U.S. owned companies. American taxpayer dollars will not be used to prop up companies tied to the Chinese government.” Does that mean Brown is for or against the ban? It’s hard to tell from his weasel-worded statement.
Competitors Are Licking Their Chops
BYD’s competitors are looking at all those federal dollars on the line and can’t wait to throw BYD under the bus, so to speak. Proterra spokesperson Shane Levy said his company has the capacity to build 680 buses a year at its factories in South Carolina and California. “The transition to zero-emission transportation is fully achievable on an aggressive timeline,” he said. BYD is able to build more than twice as many.
Lindy Norris, a New Flyer spokesperson, said her company has bet on a flexible strategy that gives customers a choice of propulsion types. “We believe it’s not if, but when, all buses become zero-emission,” she said. That will sound to many CleanTechnica readers like Toyota’s “hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cells, all of the above” strategy.
In a statement, the Federal Transit Administration said the agency “is confident the industry is capable of supporting transit agencies looking to procure electric vehicles to convert to electric vehicles or expand their electric fleets.” But Dan Raudebaugh, executive director of the Center for Transportation and the Environment, which is backed by BYD, Proterra, and New Flyer, says not being able to access federal money will have a “significant impact on BYD.” He adds, “BYD has been one of the larger manufacturers of electric buses currently in the market, so the impact to supply could be significant in the short term. From a long term perspective, the funding ban reduces the available competition that reduces costs and drives innovation.”
Girardot says BYD has orders on the books which it is allowed to fulfill, as agencies that have entered into contracts with BYD can continue to use federal funds for 5 years. “We’re building a product that is essential to cleaning up the environment. It seems highly unlikely that when all the cards are dealt that we’re not going to be a part of the solution,” he says.
The last thing transportation agencies want is to become embroiled in an international trade dispute. “It’s stressful,” Angie Peters, general manager of Walla Walla’s Valley Transit in eastern Washington State, tells the Washington Post. Her agency operates four 35-foot-long BYD buses styled to look like old-fashioned trolleys. She says switching to another supplier means maintenance technicians would need to be retrained, more storage would be needed for spare parts, and a second charging system would need to be installed. No other electric bus manufacturer in the US offers a 30-foot-long model, which Peters says is needed on some of her agency’s routes.
Union Versus Union
How pathetic is it that some labor unions have been actively lobbying Congress to cut off funding for BYD, which uses only union workers? In a letter to Congress, the unions said with a straight face, “The nation’s shared economic and national security interests are jeopardized when our own tax dollars enable China’s efforts to dominate global markets and corner production of emerging technologies, including rechargeable batteries, electric vehicles, and other clean energy platforms.” They maintain that BYD is a threat to American jobs, even though it hires and trains American workers at its American factory. This is xenophobia at its most virulent.
BYD has worked tirelessly with local officials to create training opportunities for low-wage workers in the area, lifting many of its workers out of poverty and teaching them skills that will enable them to feed their families and hold their heads high in the community. So why has Congress adopted this “ready, shoot, aim,” strategy? Lancaster may not have much clout at the national level, but Los Angeles does and benefits greatly from BYD’s community involvement policies. It also has purchased a number of electric buses from BYD for its own public transit agency.
Our own Kyle Field visited the company’s factory in 2015 and filed an extensive report about all the good things the company is doing for its workers and its community. But some looneytunes in Congress are getting hysterical because they fear BYD is calling Xi Jinping every morning with an update on technology it has stolen from other American companies in the past 24 hours.
The US Versus China
The degree of fear and paranoia about China may remind many of the heady days when people all over America were rushing to Washington to tattle to the House Un-American Activities Committee and “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy about the unpatriotic thoughts and deeds of their colleagues. America is gearing up for another colossal witch hunt and the war drums are beating. This is going to get ugly very quickly. And people wonder why there are no Chinese-made cars in the US?
Psst! Does anyone know Geely — a Chinese company — owns Volvo or that both Volvo and General Motors sell cars manufactured in China in the US? Don’t let Congress find out about that. Oh, the horror! And can you image the howls of outrage if China someday decides that GM, Ford, and Jeep can no longer sell their Chinese-made cars in China because they might be a threat to its national security? If the Biden administration was able to see beyond the end of the week, it would see that the ban on federal funds for BYD will encourage China to do exactly that.
Ilaria Mazzocco, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies which focuses on Chinese business, tells the Washington Post that while China does intervene heavily in its economy, she has seen “no evidence actually that there’s a national security rationale for keeping a Chinese bus manufacturer out of the U.S. No one has been able to convince me that the bus industry is that strategic.”
Political grievances seldom lead to good business decisions. America needs electric buses and trucks and cars. BYD manufactures all three, but has made the mistake of being based in a country that is involved in a pissing contest with the United States. Want more proof that politicians are some of the dumbest people on the face of the planet? With thinking like this, any hope that humanity will rise to the challenge of global warming is as faint as moonlight at the bottom of the ocean. We have met the enemy and they are us.
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