By Eric Wesoff
When Micheal Austin worked at Motorola (MOT), he was responsible for buying lithium-ion batteries for Motorola's mobile phones. His suppliers were the usual Japanese suspects and they were being, let's say, less than fair on price. That is, until China's BYD (OTCPK:BYDDY) emerged as a supplier and shattered the Japanese battery cartel. BYD went on to become Motorola's primary battery supplier and eventually became the private-label supplier of many of Motorola's entire phones, not just the battery. Today, Austin is the VP of BYD America.
So who is BYD?
They might be the quietest 160,000-employee electronics contract manufacturing, OEM, and private labeling powerhouse you've never heard of. And they're coming to an automobile dealership, solar roof, and utility-scale battery application near you. Soon.
And if you're an auto maker, or an EV builder or a solar panel manufacturer -- it might be time to be a little scared.
BYD was founded in 1995, went public in 2002, started building cars in 2003 via an acquisition, and started building solar panels in 2008.
BYD is now one of the largest car makers in the world -- having shipped 450,000 cars last year and 60,000 cars last month (!). Their e6 electric vehicle is coming to the U.S. late this year and boasts a 205-mile range and a top speed of 87 mph. It does zero to 60 mph in 14 slow seconds and boasts a recyclable and relatively safe LiFe battery. And it looks pretty good.
The internal combustion sedans and HEVs in BYD's line-up also look impressive, with impressive performance specs and features.
The firm is holding a press conference this morning at the Geneva Auto Show, which starts later this week, and is expected to announce the arrival of the e6 EV on European and American shores starting in Southern California in late 2010.
Notable about BYD is their commitment to vertical integration. Austin said that he toured the mile-long auto production facility in Shenzen, China and that BYD is manufacturing everything in the car except for the tires and windshield glass. That means BYD airbags, BYD seatbelts, BYD batteries, BYD transmissions, etc.
This same vertical integration is seen in BYD's solar panel manufacturing process -- BYD owns the mines for the feedstock, and builds everything from feedstock through ingot to cells to panels. This also applies to their battery build, as well.
And if that wasn't enough of a commitment to going big in greentech, BYD is also building utility-scale battery based grid storage from their LiFe batteries. They are deploying 4-megawatt energy storage batteries for ancillary services and energy arbitrage. Austin said the battery cost was in the $500-per-kilowatt range, which is within striking distance of many experts' competitive target of $250-per-kilowatt.
Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A), through its MidAmerican Energy unit, bought a ten-percent stake in BYD for $230 million in 2008. In a recent investor letter, Buffett valued his $230 million in 2008 now at $1.99 billion.
The firm is investing billions into the solar panel factory, which is said to have up to 500 megawatts of capacity.
It looks like Chinese businesses are taking greentech world leadership very seriously.
A slide from a recent BYD presentation follows that illustrates the vertical integration this company brings to bear.
click to enlarge