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More details emerge on Chinese car company's arrival in Los Angeles

April 29, 2010 |  9:28 pm

An upstart Chinese electric car company -- best known for making cellphone batteries -- will locate the company’s North American headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, with plans to possibly expand into manufacturing in the United States in the years ahead.

BYD Co., which employs 150,000 workers worldwide, will open here in late 2010 and plans to enter the U.S. electric car market about the same time, shipping its electric vehicles through the Port of Los Angeles, company and city officials said Thursday.

The headquarters will be near Figueroa and 18th streets and eventually will have about 150 corporate employees, including managers, designers and engineers. City officials predict that the BYD corporate office could attract more than 750 indirect jobs through contractors and other support services.

Wang Chuan-fu, chairman of the Shenzhen, China, company, said Thursday that the company also will aggressively pursue markets for solar panels and battery storage for renewable energy supplies. Along with the BYD’s electric cars, all manufacturing will be done in China.

‘’There is big potential here,’’ said Senior Vice President Stella Li, who will run BYD’s North American operation. “We anticipate we could potentially have a big market here and maybe, together, can build a lot of good stuff here.’’

If the company’s initial foray into the U.S. market is successful, BYD’s next step would be to build a distribution system and eventually manufacturing facilities in the United States for the cars, solar panels and batteries, Li said.

The company plans to introduce the full-size electric e6 by the end of the year, and at first will market it to governments and others customers with large pools of fleet cars.

Wang and Li will join Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on the steps of City Hall on Friday morning to make the formal announcement. Austin Beutner, deputy mayor for Economic and Business Policy, said the city hopes BYD’s presence will serve a catalyst for establishing a vibrant “green’’ industry in Los Angeles.

The city offers reduced tariffs for all zero-emission vehicles shipped into its port, one of the major enticements used to lure BYD, Beutner said. The city also will provide about $1 million in improvements around the firm’s headquarters, and has agreed to showcase BYD’s e6 in the terminals at Los Angeles International Airport.

Beutner, who ran a successful private equity firm before coming to the city, called BYD “one of the world’s leading companies,’’ and said its presence will attract suppliers, business partners and other related firms that will compound job growth in the city.

“We’ll look back after five or 10 years, and a whole ecosystem of businesses will have grown,’’ he said. “When we can attract leadership companies like this to Los Angeles, it’s really a tale of how we can use the city to help, and a tale of why this is important.’’

Beutner said Los Angeles also is engaged in preliminary discussions about purchasing BYD’s electric cars for the city’s fleet as well as solar panels for the Department of Water and Power’s aggressive renewable energy program. No agreements have been reached, said Beutner, who is serving as the interim head of the utility.

In July, Villaraigosa pledged that the city would halt the use of coal-burning power plants by 2020 and -- that same year -- generate at least 40% of its energy from renewable resources, including solar, wind and geothermal power. The mayor later said he hopes to leverage the buying power of the DWP, the largest municipal utility in the nation, to attract solar panel manufacturers and other renewable energy companies to Los Angeles.

Since starting the company in 1995, Wang has built BYD — short for Build Your Dream — into the world’s leading producer of rechargeable batteries for mobile phones and laptops, among other products. Among those betting on BYD is Warren E. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which in 2008 bought a 9.9% stake for $230 million.

BYD was aggressively courted by other states and cities, but decided on Los Angeles because of California’s strong push for renewable energy and the state’s abundant resources. Li said that Beutner and other city officials provided “very strong support,’’ giving BYD the confidence and comfort to move the city.

-- Phil Willon at Los Angeles City Hall