At the end of 2021, Chinese electric vehicle (EV) and battery maker BYD reached a milestone in its internationalisation journey. Just four months after launching its all-electric Tang sports utility vehicle (SUV) in Norway, the country with the world’s fastest take-up of EVs, BYD delivered its 1000th model to a Norwegian customer.

BYD is one of several Chinese EV makers, including Nio and Xpeng, that have stepped up their global expansion after success in China, the world’s largest automotive market.

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Charlie Munger, the vice chairman of US conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, which bought 225 million of BYD's Hong Kong-listed shares back in 2008, equivalent to a near 7.9% stake, said in February 2021 that the company was in a “wonderful position” to benefit from the electrification of transport

“BYD is very well positioned for the transfer of Chinese automobile production from gasoline-driven cars to electricity-driven cars,” he noted.

As competition heats up between Chinese companies and legacy automakers in the global transition to EVs, BYD hopes its partnerships with industry heavyweights as well as its battery technology will help it sell new energy vehicles (NEVs), which include electric, fuel cell and hybrid vehicles, across the globe. 

Full industrial chain 

BYD was founded in 1995 to produce lithium batteries for consumer electronics, but has evolved to become one of the world’s largest manufacturers of EV batteries. In recent years, it has also developed its own battery-powered cars, buses, taxis and vehicles used in industries such as logistics and construction.

Mia Gu, a spokesperson for BYD, told fDi that the company has a “full industrial chain and full market” strategy, in which it owns technologies across the NEV supply chain — including powertrains, automotive chips and electronic control systems.

BYD is among just three global automakers, including Tesla and EV start-up Lucid Motors, that are completely making their electric motors in-house, according to IHS Markit. Other carmakers, including Mercedes, Ford and Honda, source the electric motors used in their current EV models from suppliers.

But BYD’s path to develop its own EVs, and the various components within them, has not happened in a vacuum. China has been aggressively promoting the EV and battery industry for years through fiscal incentives, free land and guarantees of electricity for factories. 

“The Chinese government has backed the battery industry through policy and financial support for far longer than any other region,” says Caspar Rawles, the chief data officer of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence (BMI), an EV supply chain specialist.

BYD’s Ms Gu agrees that China’s success within the EV industry has been based on coordinated planning and action, as well as innovation and policies. 

Shenzhen home

Ms Gu says that China’s effective EV policy is evident in the Chinese tech hub of Shenzhen, in Guangdong province, where BYD is based and has supplied the majority of the city’s nearly 16,000 fully electric buses and 22,000 fully electric taxis.

BYD employs about 50,000 people at its vast Shenzhen headquarters, in areas including manufacturing, research and development (R&D), and a control centre where it can monitor its fleet of electric buses across China.

Ms Gu says that Guangdong has unique advantages compared to other Chinese provinces for the development of NEVs. 

“Relying on the advantages of the traditional automobile industry cluster, Guangdong concentrated resources on the core technology of NEVs under the promotion of several supportive policies,” she says.

Today, BYD has nine production bases throughout China, including in the cities of Xi’an and Taiyuan. In 2021, it delivered 740,000 vehicles, including 604,000 NEVs, an increase of 220% on the previous year, according to BYD. The company has been China’s largest producer of NEVs for almost a decade.

Global ambitions

BYD has also expanded its global footprint. With the EV sector, BYD has announced 14 greenfield projects in overseas markets since 2016, according to investment monitor fDi Markets. This makes it China’s second most active foreign investor behind Geely, which announced 15 projects over the same period.

Central to BYD’s global ambitions are its safe, cheap and powerful lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, known as ‘blades’ due to their long thin shape. For the same space, BYD’s blade batteries can hold 50% more energy than similar battery chemistries, according to the company.

Through its subsidiary FinDreams Battery, BYD is supplying its blades to several global automakers. This includes Japan’s Toyota, with which BYD announced a joint R&D programme for pure EV technology in 2020.

“Our greatest commitment is to develop strong partnerships with industry stakeholders,” says Ms Gu. “We want to share expertise, promote electrification and reduce the impact of transport on our environment.”

BYD has pursued several partnerships with other global automakers, including with Germany’s Daimler since 2010, as well as UK-based ADL, a subsidiary of global bus manufacturer NFI Group. 

In February 2022, the EV partnership between ADL and BYD announced it would supply 130 zero-emission double-decker buses to EV fleet and battery storage specialist Zenobē and bus operator National Express, which will be used across Coventry, UK.

Ms Gu notes that BYD’s all-electric buses and taxis have been driven in more than 400 cities and over 70 countries worldwide, and that the company's overarching aim is to replace fuel-powered vehicles with electric solutions.

Need to invest

While BYD has invested globally, Mr Rawles notes that it is yet to officially announce a battery cell manufacturing facility outside China, which has by far the largest battery industry globally. 

BMI figures indicate that China has a 3733-gigawatt hour pipeline of lithium-ion battery production capacity by 2031, which is more than double the size of the combined total for the rest of the world. 

CATL is currently the only Chinese manufacturer with a LFP battery cell plant outside China, located in Erfurt, Germany.

Even without foreign battery plants, BYD still has six production facilities in overseas markets, including the US, Japan, Hungary and India, covering areas such as battery pack assembly and all-electric buses and trucks.

“The global market for NEVs will continue expanding on a large scale, full of opportunities and challenges, which calls for closer international cooperation,” says Ms Gu. 

Yet, even as governments aim to phase out fossil fuel-powered transport, including Norway by 2025 and other European countries like Iceland, the Netherlands and Belgium by 2030, Ms Gu stresses the need for more investment.

“Fact is that we all — government, public and manufacturers — need to invest to make this world a better, cleaner place,” she says.

This article first appeared in the April/May 2022 print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.