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Global force BYD focuses bus lens on Australian market

In under 30 years, BYD has become an international giant in many spheres, including zero-emissions vehicles, rail transit, renewable energy and electronics. It’s now turning its focus towards the Australian and New Zealand electric bus and coach market

BYD is already well-known for its presence in the global electric car market. Only a fraction of these people familiar with BYD know about its origins in manufacturing batteries for devices. Now, BYD hopes that Australians will soon be familiar with its name when it comes to zero-emissions buses.

“BYD was founded in 1995 as a battery manufacturer, producing batteries for smart phones, tablets and laptops,” BYD Australia commercial vehicles director Jon Tozer told ABC.

“With global partners such as Nokia, Apple, Dell, Toshiba, Microsoft, Samsung, Motorola and more, our foundations weren’t in the vehicle game.”

By 2000, the emerging company had become one of the world’s largest producers of safe rechargeable batteries, developing advanced battery systems and patents in the space.

It wasn’t until 2003 that BYD transitioned into the vehicle space when it acquired Xi’an Tsinchuan Auto (now BYD Auto Company Limited). Following popular investments in the coming years, BYD’s automobile business launched in the mid-2000s, delivering thousands of buses, trucks and cars globally.

Two decades after the Tsinchuan acquisition, BYD recorded an annual revenue of $61.7 billion USD, with 57 per cent annual growth in 2022.

“We’re in 400 cities and employ more than 570,000 employees globally,” Tozer says.

“People don’t realise how big BYD actually is – we’re in 70 countries and across six continents.”

The vehicle side of BYD took off in 2008 when the Commercial Vehicles side commenced. It became an essential part of BYD’s four major industries, with technology research and design, application and promotion of new energy vehicles becoming a major focus.

Since this evolution, BYD Commercial Vehicles has developed a complete industrial chain of new energy commercial vehicle products that also expands into planning, commercial sales and aftersales customer service.

BYD’s original growth has been in the automobile market, with its range of electric cars rising to prominence as a more affordable and technologically advanced version in the sector. However, the car sector is just one part of BYD’s overall success in numerous industries around the world.

Its might was on full display in 2020 during the midst of the COVID pandemic. Just three days after COVID first interrupted everyday living, BYD had completed a blueprint for a factory to produce facemasks.

Seven days later, the equipment set up was complete. Within 21 days of COVID, the manufacturing plant was up and running. By the 24 day mark, BYD had solidified its spot as the global leader of PPE facemask manufacturing, producing more than 100 million masks per day for more than 80 countries.

“BYD had never built facemasks in its life before that moment,” Tozer says.

“It’s these little things that show why BYD is such a powerful global leader.”

BYD has brought this same intensity and passion to creating a variety of bus models for the global market. With more than 70,000 people working in research and design for the company, it’s developed a full range of electric buses ranging from minibuses to double-decker articulated 14.5m vehicles and 12.5m low entry city bus chassis.

With a mission to change the world by creating a complete zero-emissions ecosystem powered by clean energy, BYD has kept bus production central as it continues expanding into trucks, forklifts, sanitation vehicles and rail transit.

Image Supplied: BYD

Nowadays, BYD globally has many different transit, coach and school bus options for its wide network of operators. This technological development saw BYD announce in April last year that it would focus only on producing electric vehicles, marking the end of production for combustion engine vehicles. Its hulking presence in the commercial vehicle sector is now purely electric.

“BYD supplies electric buses to major operators around the world such as the Go-Ahead Group, one of UK’s leading public transport companies, Kinetic, Keolis, Kelsian Group, LTA Singapore, KMB Hong Kong, Alexander Dennis and CDC, a subsidiary of Comfort Del Gro Global,” Tozer says.

“In Australia, we have around 180 buses on the road, partnering with key operators like Transit Systems, Ventura and Kinetic to name a few, while we have a good order book for the rest of the year with our local body builder partners.”

This global growth has required plenty of catching up. This means BYD has had to continue building factories to accommodate increasing bus and vehicle demands. It now has bus manufacturing facilities in Hungary, the Netherlands, the UK, Brazil, America and China.

At its BYD Global headquarters in the city of Shenzhen, the site includes several factories and an office inspired by the US’ Pentagon building, independent accommodation for workers and its own sporting clubs.

The site is so massive that BYD decided in 2016 to build a SkyRail to get around the BYD HQ business park. Within six months, it had done so, constructing the track and rail cars from scratch despite having no experience in building rail transit.

It was in 2016 that BYD also first forayed into Australia through a tender from airport transport company Carbridge for a Sydney Airport bus contract. After the sale of Carbridge, the rights for BYD commercial vehicles were transferred before ending at a local agent.

Earlier this year, BYD decided the best way to support its operators going forward was to establish a full factory backed commercial vehicle division that is responsible for bus and truck for Australia and New Zealand markets.

The appointment of Tozer as director of commercial vehicles for BYD Australia was part of this Australian change, having 35 years’ industry experience. Tozer started as an apprentice diesel mechanic with Grenda Bus Service before recently being the business development manager at Volgren.

His experience is helping navigate BYD’s push to introduce more electric buses into the country. While his main focus at the moment is on aftersales, he’s already working to bring some of BYD’s best global innovations to Australia.

This includes the latest vehicles unveiled globally in Busworld in Brussels. In early October, BYD’s stand at the international bus and coach show played host to the premiere of two new electric bus innovations in the BYD eBus B19 and B15.

Alongside the European debut of BYD’s B12 and DD13 double-decker coach, these exciting new entries to the market are set to raise the bar when it comes to electric bus technology.

Tozer says a particularly impressive part of BYD’s Busworld stand was the B12, which is the first chassis to feature the brand’s revolutionary BYD Blade Battery technology.

“The Busworld premiere of the new B12 BYD Blade Battery Chassis was a highlight,” he says.

“It’s an incredible model that’s one tonne lighter than our current chassis and has the ability to have its batteries under the floor line, providing several benefits by significantly lowering the centre of gravity while improving stability and road handling.

“It is a game changer and everyone was raving about the benefits of the new BYD Blade Battery technology.”

Image Supplied: BYD

The secret behind this weight drop and efficiency boost is in the battery technology. For the first time, BYD’s Blade Battery was on full display in an electric bus.

Unlike bulkier batteries on other electric buses around the world, including BYD’s current models, the BYD Blade Battery is made up of ultra-safe lithium iron phosphate thin blades that can fit into the low floor area of the bus chassis. In the rear of the chassis, the sleek batteries can be halved and stacked on top of each other to add more battery power at a light weight.

As one of the largest battery manufacturers in the world, this evolution is part of BYD’s journey. BYD battery factories are dedicated to redefining vehicle batteries, with the end result being the latest B12 model that can travel up to 600 kilometres in one charge.

Although Australia won’t see this technology until 2026, it’s a tantalising temptation of what’s to come for the local market.

“The chassis must undergo 18 months of testing before it is released to market here,” Tozer says.

“We’ll start taking orders late next year and in early 2025 before then rolling it out in 2026 to the Australian industry.”

Already the BYD Blade Battery has proven its worth, having easily passed the world-renowned Nail Penetration Test synonymous with batteries. Tozer says this is because the thin blades don’t require as much thermal protection and involve less chemicals, limiting the opportunity for the battery to enter thermal runaway.

BYD is already winning over operators around the world. Last year, massive Norwegian operator Nobina ordered 64 BYD electric buses, while Santiago, Chile received its 800th BYD bus. In early October this year, 2000 electric buses were slated to be delivered into Uzbekistan throughout the next year.

The other benefit is that BYD is the only integral e-drive solution in the bus market, where it designs and manufactures the batteries, drive motors and the control systems of its vehicle, meaning it produces a truly integrated solution with no third party suppliers.

All of this gives Tozer and the newly established BYD Australian team plenty to work with. While the rate of evolution on electric buses may be difficult to keep up with, Tozer says BYD Australia will continue to be at the forefront and work with its customers and local body builders in providing the best solution for the market.

If this focus on Australia matches BYD’s acclaimed advancements in numerous global sectors, including the bus and coach industry, then expect BYD to be a major local player very shortly.

“Since May 2023, BYD has moved into Australia by itself and there’s already so much happening,” Tozer says.

“While we have these products coming with BYD Blade technology onboard, our main focus at BYD Commercial Vehicles Australia and New Zealand is on developing our local aftersales space – already we have a team of seven aftersales engineers and we’re looking at growing the team in the coming months.

“We’ve heard the market and we understand the shortfall provided by our previous arrangement, so we’re going to knuckle down on that side and focus on it so that we can continue providing the best quality service for BYD customers in Australia and New Zealand.”

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