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BYD electric bus deals questioned after testing finds problems

Chinese EV-maker BYD has been in the news lately, selling its electric buses to transit authorities in cities around the world. Alas, the ride in a city bus, regardless of its powertrain, is seldom as smooth as one would wish.

In March, the Long Beach Transit Board approved a $12.1 million contract to purchase 10 electric buses from BYD, and the company purchased a manufacturing facility in Lancaster, California to build them.

Some found the decision controversial, especially South Carolina-based Proterra, one of five other firms that had competed for the contract. A couple of politicians also weighed in, saying that the business should have gone to a local firm.

In August, the Long Beach Post reported that the city’s Chief Traffic Engineer was concerned that the BYD buses were too heavy, and would damage streets – an issue that transit officials were aware of before awarding BYD the contract. Also, cracks above a rear door were found at the federal testing facility in Altoona, Pennsylvania. BYD determined that the cracks were due to poor welding, not a design flaw.

In October, the Long Beach Business Journal reported that Long Beach Transit (LBT) inspectors had discovered “unacceptable” issues with the frame of an engineering prototype, and that 20 BYD engineers were at work resolving the issues.

“There is not a bus that goes through Altoona that does not have some sort of [issue],” BYD America VP Micheal Austin told the Business Journal. Cracking is “a very common problem,” he said, adding that the test is meant to reveal where buses are likely to wear down to help plan preventive maintenance. Kenneth McDonald, CEO of LBT, has met with BYD to discuss the issues as testing continues, and said that he is comfortable with the process.

Meanwhile, the city of Windsor, Ontario has placed a deal with BYD on hold after hearing of the California concerns. Last year, the city signed a letter of intent to buy 10 BYD electric buses, and has been talking to the company about establishing a manufacturing plant in Windsor. BYD’s buses are currently being tested in Quebec, and Francis said the Windsor deal could still be saved if they pass inspection there.


Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit (flickr)
Sources: Windsor Star, Long Beach Post, Long Beach Business Journal

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