LongBeachize: BYD Electric Bus Procurement Further Delayed

Image created by Baktaash Sorkhabi
Image created by Baktaash Sorkhabi

The BYD Motors drama is quickly becoming the novela of the transit community in Southern California, as the bus manufacturer—via Long Beach Transit (LBT)’s Rolando Cruz—is expected to delay the delivery of LBT’s electric bus fleet.

The troubled bus manufacturer, whose North American offices in Los Angeles are operated by China-based BYD, controversially scored the contract with LBT this past year over South Carolina-based Proterra; additionally this year, it also won an electric bus contract with Metro, making BYD home to the nation’s two largest electric bus contracts. The controversy was rightfully raised, if not a flat-out given provided the many questions that arose in the RFP process.

“This delay in Altoona [testing] could adversely affect our deployment schedule because we have contractually agreed to not accept any buses before the Altoona testing is completed,” Cruz said.

For one, Proterra’s electric buses—already approved through the fed’s testing program, Altoona—were already on the ground in Foothill and have since then hit the ground in San Antonio while BYD’s buses hadn’t even hit the line for Altoona testing. This isn’t to mention the company’s falsifying of who had contracted buses with them.

Then things really started to hit the fan: the recent admission at a LBT board meeting that seven of the nine subassemblies for the new fleet were not approved for use; the welding issues that were discovered in the frames and bracket installation; the cracks that were discovered near the rear of the BYD bus undergoing Altoona testing; accusations of failed promises in regard to job building and bus manufacturing in North America…

And the frosting on the curb? Two major national stories—one for the New York Times and the other for the Los Angeles Times—has uncovered that the State of California is investigating BYD for labor violations that amount to 112 citations and nearly $20K in back wage violations after it was discovered that BYD had employed Chinese nationals with a $1.50/hr wage. All this has ultimately resulted in the state fining BYD some $100K.

The most recent LBT meeting brought forth the fact that a Chinese-made bus had undergone 6,000 of the required 15,000 miles of testing at Altoona but now BYD wants the feds to test a new model. This new bus is referred to as the LBT pilot because it represents how the entire new electric fleet for LBT will be made: parts from China, assembled in US.

Image via the Antelope Valley Times
Image via the Antelope Valley Times

This means, according to Cruz, a new bus may not be seen until February or March, adding another three months given Altoona puts buses under some 150 miles of testing per day.

“This delay in Altoona [testing] could adversely affect our deployment schedule because we have contractually agreed to not accept any buses before the Altoona testing is completed,” Cruz said.

FTA only wishes to test one bus so as to whether this will go through is entirely uncertain.

The implications of this very tricky situation are concerning, if not outright dire: between Metro and LBT, BYD is becoming the face of this country’s approach to electric transit on a larger scale than anywhere else. Should the programs not run smoothly—such as Proterra’s programs in Foothill or San Antonio, which has not seen a major, national impact due to the smallness of their fleets—the public perception of the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of electric fleets will fall by the wayside.

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  • calwatch

    “This new bus is referred to as the LBT pilot because it represents how
    the entire new electric fleet for LBT will be made: parts from China,
    assembled in US.”

    This is how most buses and rail cars are made to meet Buy America… parts fabricated in another country, assembled here. Those Hyundai train cars on Metrolink were built in South Korea but assembled in the US. New Flyer bus parts are fabricated in Canada. Brian is making this seem like something irregular when until a company gets a strong foothold in the market (like NABI which only started producing parts in the US a couple of years ago… previously parts were shipping from Hungary), it is prudent to use existing facilities in other countries. The BYD bashing is getting old and Addison never even bothered BYD to provide a comment. This is not the kind of journalism that Streetsblog should expect.

  • I think this recent interview with New Flyer CEO/President Brian Soubry gave a sense of the challenges manufacturing transit buses in the U.S. entails

    http://www.metro-magazine.com/article/story/2013/09/new-flyers-soubry-embraces-companys-bold-future.aspx

    I do worry whether this procurement was driven as much by BYD dangling a local manufacturing plant. It wouldn’t be the first time Metro got hung up by that (cf the P2000 Siemens cars that run on the Green Line).

  • Hammer

    Throw those lying BYD punks out and give the contract to Proterra !!! No, I don’t work for Proterra, but I do live in the Greenville area where they are HQd. This whole deal stinks to high heaven and the LB purchasing people who believed those BYD lies should be fired.

  • David Lane

    Thanks for the reporting! I would love to see a follow-up article about Foothill’s experience with Proterra e-buses. The things are potentially game changing but I’ve never seen an article and data regarding the costs, benefits and reliability.

  • Hammer

    Foothill ordered 12 more Proterras in Sept — I’d call that a vote of confidence: http://chargedevs.com/newswire/foothill-transit-orders-12-more-proterra-electric-buses/

  • David Lane

    Yeah, except they had no choice but to buy Proterra since they already had the fast-charging infrastructure and no other fast-charging bus was available.

  • Erik Griswold

    I think Brian is right to pursue the BYD story, and especially the potential “follow the money” aspects. Yes he should engage their staff (is there more than just Michael Austin?) as I did with AnsaldoBreda back when, but something tells me he’s tried and it led no where.

    As for the comparisons to the other companies, let’s remember that

    1)Rotem was made up of a merger by the rolling stock production arms of 3 of the South Korean Chaebols, specifically Hyundai, Hanjin and Daewoo and had long established a track record in the world. In North America, where operating environments and technical standards are unified, Rotem had already delivered cars to Vancouver’s Canada Line automated metro before any of the “Guardian” cars for SCRRA/Metrolink had been manufactured.

    2)NewFlyer, MCI, Novobus/Prevost and Orion all are (or were in the case of Orion) Canadian companies, although some do now or did once have non-North American ownership (Volvo owns NovaBus/Prevost, Daimler owned Orion). Except the motor-vehicle industry in the USA and Canada is supposed to be unified market thanks to treaties signed after WW2 and only recently superseded by NAFTA. That’s why your local Policing agency likely still drives Ford Crown Victorias that were always made in Canada by (gasp) “foreigners”. Shall we ponder the Japanese produced Toyota Prius that found its way into so many municipal fleets in the name of “environmentalism” in the past decade?

    Why the transit business (let’s included Bombardier) is treated differently than Ford, GM or Fiat’s Chrysler Division when it comes to public-funded purchases is due to lobbying and the long underlying effort to make transit less attractive than the private automobile. But you know about that.

    3)NABI has its roots in Ikarus, a company that was producing buses for the COMECON block since the decent of the Iron Curtain, and then in the later Cold War years made joint-venture Articulated buses for the North American market with Orion and L.A./Chino’s very own Crown Coachworks.
    (There was a point in the late 1980’s where it was possible to ride the same model bus in Portland, Ottawa, East Berlin and Leningrad)
    Yes, they took advantage of the lower cost of doing work in Hungary for as long as it lasted, but at least they have been in the US market and “tightening the widgets” in one form or another (don’t forget “Ikarus USA”) since 1980.

    BYD is unproven, hasn’t passed Altoona, does not even have a demonstrator that has been placed in even one day’s service on the streets of Los Angeles, and seems to have gotten the contract because of vague promises to open a plant in the then-chairman of the Metro Board of Director’s gerrymandered supervisor district. And how many locals has this plant actually hired wages considered above-minimum on which local taxes are being paid?

    If you really need a bus built in California by locals, why not call Gillig?

  • calwatch

    The biggest issue on the Proterra buses is that they have to charge way too frequently. Look at a Foothill schedule and see how much time is spent, beyond the layover at the ends, wasted at the Pomona Transit Center to charge. The BYD buses are supposed to be able to do a day’s work without charging.

    Ultimately electric technology may be like the old “fuel of the month club” at RTD. It will take some time to shake out. After all when the CNG bus exploded at MTA 17 years ago, it took another two or three years before CNG technology was at the same level of diesel technology in terms of safety.

  • calwatch

    Where’s the Gillig electric bus? They are not even in the CNG business.

    And as far as contacting the other side for comment, that is a pro forma thing for journalists to do, especially when it is the key topic of a story. If you don’t contact the other side, the entire piece needs to be labeled opinion. This is not news analysis, this is a rehash of old arguments against BYD combined with a minor item at a Long Beach Transit board meeting to make it newsworthy. Those LA Times and NY Times articles were six weeks ago and were covered by Longbeachize at the time.

    This is basic Journalism 101 and why I am not a fan of Addison’s work. It certainly seems that while he may not be a booster of any technology, he has it in for BYD. Which is his right… after all it seems Ralph V. has it in for High Speed Rail. But you still have to ask for comment, and report if there was none or report what they responded.

  • “The BYD buses are supposed to be able to do a day’s work without charging.”

    And something tells me this may not work out as promised.

  • Gillig’s Electric Bus? Operating in Seattle for the past 13 years.

    Gillig has shown an ability to work with other power-train suppliers as it did in Seattle. They have a CALIFORNIA-built body and chassis that is proven and has passed Altoona. Why not work with them and support CALIFORNIA jobs instead of flying in laborers from a Marxist-Leninist Dictatorship?

  • Maud

    I love how any article about Long Beach is either a crusade against BYD or a form of boosterism trumping the city’s few (and all over-rated) accomplishments. This self proclaimed “most bicycle friendly” city has more common with Huntington Beach than Portland but you’d never know it they way it is portrayed by fashion bloggers.

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