LOS ANGELES (Bloomberg) -- BYD Co., the Chinese maker of autos and batteries that's backed by billionaire Warren Buffett, is locating its North American headquarters in downtown Los Angeles as the company prepares to sell electric cars in the United States.
The company will hire 150 employees for the office by 2011, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement today. BYD also will base its U.S. solar-panel and battery storage business in the city, Wang told reporters.
BYD plans to sell rechargeable battery-powered cars in California initially before expanding throughout the United States. The company aims to deliver e6 hatchbacks to fleet users in California late this year, before beginning retail sales in 2011.
“By the end of next year, the plan is to offer several models,” BYD Senior Vice President Stella Li, who will manage the company's U.S. operations, told reporters in Los Angeles. Li said that initial U.S. dealers for BYD products may include Penske Motor Group, an operator of auto franchises in California.
The BYD vice president said she has held talks with Greg Penske, CEO of Penske Motor. The company is part of Penske Corp., which also is the largest shareholder in auto retailer Penske Automotive Group Inc.
BYD, China's fastest growing automaker this year, has said it wants to tap a budding U.S. market for cars that use little or no gasoline and cut greenhouse-gas emissions. The company will compete with Nissan Motor Co., General Motors Co., Tesla Motors Inc. and Coda Automotive, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based startup that also plans to sell Chinese-built electric cars in its home state this year.
Li declined to provide the company's U.S. sales goals for its electric vehicles, the price of its cars or how much the company is investing in the regional operations.
Austin Beutner, deputy mayor of Los Angeles and chief executive of city economic and business policy, estimated that in addition to the 150 initial jobs, BYD's operation will spur at least 1,000 more positions in Los Angeles, including vehicle sales and support and solar-panel installation.
The company also plans to sell large-scale battery storage systems for electric utilities using its iron-phosphate batteries. BYD is in talks to supply a 10-megawatt system to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Li said.
BYD joins Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Co., Kia Motors Corp., Mazda Motor Corp., Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Suzuki Motor Corp. in locating U.S. sales operations in Southern California.