08/04/2021

Stalls, stops and breakdowns: Problems plague push for electric buses

When Chinese battery maker BYD Ltd. approached Southern California officials in 2008 touting ambitious plans to build electric cars, local politicians jumped at the promise of thousands of jobs and cleaner air.

In the nine years since, agencies have awarded BYD grants, subsidies and public contracts worth more than $330 million for its battery-powered buses, forklifts and trucks. The company is positioned to be a prime supplier of electric buses to the nation’s second-largest system, as Los Angeles’ Metro sets a 12-year deadline to abandon fossil fuels.

But largely unbeknownst to the public, BYD’s electric buses are contending with a record of poor performance and mechanical problems.

A Times investigation found its buses stalled on hills, required service calls much more frequently than older buses and had unpredictable driving ranges below advertised distances, which were impaired by the heat, the cold or the way drivers braked.

. . . Thousands of pages of public records and interviews with those dealing directly with the company show BYD to be a skilled political operator. The company’s business model involves hiring lobbyists and grant writers to secure no-bid purchases by public agencies, and it has invited public officials on foreign junkets and employed their close associates. Those officials then repeatedly came to the company’s defense as concerns about the buses heightened.

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