Posted by: carboncreditsusa | April 14, 2009

“Electric Vehicles”: BYD Auto Has Impressed Warren Buffett With Its Development Of Batterie Technology

byd-electric-carWarren Buffett hasn’t just seen the car of the future, he’s sitting in the driver’s seat. Why he’s banking on an obscure Chinese electric car company and a CEO who – no joke – drinks his own battery fluid.

Warren Buffett is famous for his rules of investing: When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is usually the reputation of the business that remains intact. You should invest in a business that even a fool can run, because someday a fool will. And perhaps most famously, Never invest in a business you cannot understand.

So when Buffett’s friend and longtime partner in Berkshire Hathaway (BRKB), Charlie Munger, suggested early last year that they invest in BYD, an obscure Chinese battery, mobile phone, and electric car company, one might have predicted Buffett would cite rule No. 3 above. He is, after all, a man who shunned the booming U.S. tech industry during the 1990s.

But Buffett, who is 78, was intrigued by Munger’s description of the entrepreneur behind BYD, a man named Wang Chuan-Fu, whom he had met through a mutual friend. “This guy,” Munger tells Fortune, “is a combination of Thomas Edison and Jack Welch – something like Edison in solving technical problems, and something like Welch in getting done what he needs to do. I have never seen anything like it.”

Coming from Munger, that meant a lot. Munger, the 85-year-old vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, is a curmudgeon who frowns on most investment ideas. “When I call Charlie with an idea,” Buffett tells me, “and he says, ‘That is really a dumb idea,’ that means we should put 100% of our net worth into it. If he says, ‘That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,’ then you should put 50% of your net worth into it. Only if he says, ‘I’m going to have you committed,’ does it mean he really doesn’t like the idea.”

This time Buffett asked another trusted partner, David Sokol, chairman of a Berkshire-owned utility company called MidAmerican Energy, to travel to China and take a closer look at BYD.

Last fall Berkshire Hathaway bought 10% of BYD for $230 million. The deal, which is awaiting final approval from the Chinese government, didn’t get much notice at the time. It was announced in late September, as the global financial markets teetered on the abyss. But Buffett and Munger and Sokol think it is a very big deal indeed. They think BYD has a shot at becoming the world’s largest automaker, primarily by selling electric cars, as well as a leader in the fast-growing solar power industry.

Wang Chuan-Fu started BYD (the letters are the initials of the company’s Chinese name) in 1995 in Shenzhen, China. A chemist and government researcher, Wang raised some $300,000 from relatives, rented about 2,000 square meters of space, and set out to manufacture rechargeable batteries to compete with imports from Sony and Sanyo. By about 2000, BYD had become one of the world’s largest manufacturers of cellphone batteries. The company went on to design and manufacture mobile-phone handsets and parts for Motorola (MOT, Fortune 500), Nokia (NOK), Sony Ericsson, and Samsung.

Wang entered the automobile business in 2003 by buying a Chinese state-owned car company that was all but defunct. He knew very little about making cars but proved to be a quick study. In October a BYD sedan called the F3 became the bestselling sedan in China, topping well-known brands like the Volkswagen Jetta and Toyota (TM) Corolla.

BYD has also begun selling a plug-in electric car with a backup gasoline engine, a move putting it ahead of GM, Nissan, and Toyota. BYD’s plug-in, called the F3DM (for “dual mode”), goes farther on a single charge – 62 miles – than other electric vehicles and sells for about $22,000, less than the plug-in Prius and much-hyped Chevy Volt are expected to cost when they hit the market in late 2010. Put simply, this little-known upstart has accelerated ahead of its much bigger rivals in the race to build an affordable electric car. Today BYD employs 130,000 people in 11 factories, eight in China and one each in India, Hungary, and Romania.

Its U.S. operations are small – about 20 people work in a sales and marketing outpost in Elk Grove Village, Ill., near Motorola, and another 20 or so work in San Francisco, not far from Apple. BYD makes about 80% of Motorola’s RAZR handsets, as well as batteries for iPods and iPhones and low-cost computers, including the model distributed by Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop per Child nonprofit based in Cambridge, Mass. Revenues, which have grown by about 45% annually during the past five years, reached $4 billion in 2008.

In acquiring a stake in BYD, Buffett broke a couple of his own rules. “I don’t know a thing about cellphones or batteries,” he admits. “And I don’t know how cars work.” But, he adds, “Charlie Munger and Dave Sokol are smart guys, and they do understand it. And there’s no question that what’s been accomplished since 1995 at BYD is extraordinary.”

One more thing reassured him. Berkshire Hathaway first tried to buy 25% of BYD, but Wang turned down the offer. He wanted to be in business with Buffett – to enhance his brand and open doors in the U.S., he says – but he would not let go of more than 10% of BYD’s stock. “This was a man who didn’t want to sell his company,” Buffett says. “That was a good sign.”

http://www.midasletter.com/news/09041304_The-car-company-warren-buffett-is-investing-in.php

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Responses

  1. I`m veryinterested for auto (Electric Vehicles) in for market Balkans (Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro end Serbia.
    Please wraete to me offers.
    thenkyou
    Ismet Maliqi
    Pristina
    Kosovo


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