BYD enters small ute niche with launch of S1

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Text and photos by Kap Maceda Aguila

SHENZHEN, China-headquartered car maker BYD knows where its strengths lie, and that’s surely a good thing.

“BYD is now the top supplier of electric vehicles in the world, with a market share of 13.2%, which is even higher than Tesla’s 9.9%,” said Mark Andrew Tieng in a release. As managing director of Solar Transport Automotive Resources Corp. (STAR Corp.), appointed official distributor and servicer of BYD in the Philippines, Mr. Tieng has exhibited purposefulness and patience in pushing not only the company’s products but, perhaps more importantly, what the brand stands for as well.

As the quote above suggests, BYD is distinctly known for producing vehicles with alternative (hybrid and pure-electric) power trains — although it does churn out traditional internal combustion engine-run transportation. Famously backed by Warren Buffett, BYD is making headlines in the growing number of countries that have shown the political will and foresight to curtail carbon emissions from fossil-fuel use. Verily, the firm has appeared on the radar of those with an eye on the future.

Bloomberg, citing data from the China Passenger Car Association, reported that BYD moved 46,855 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in China — leading the market, even surpassing state-owned BAIC (with 36,084 units in sales). Globally, the company has shown the way for two years in a row now. In 2016, BYD sold the most number of “new energy vehicles” — growing its sales figure by a hefty 70% to reach 100,183 units.

Even as the company makes waves globally with its sustainably powered vehicles, Mr. Tieng and STAR Corp. are looking at the bigger picture by patiently laying down the BYD foundation (and reputation) locally — particularly in the area of after-sales service.

“We want to show our commitment to service. When you own a BYD car, our people have the competence to fix it, and we have spare parts availability. We put a tremendous amount of effort into building trust,” Mr. Tieng declared in an exclusive interview.

BYD took the occasion of its fourth anniversary celebration to launch two products: an all-new lithium ion phosphate battery-powered forklift and, more importantly, its S1 subcompact SUV.

The S1, which takes its place as the entry point to BYD’s ute portfolio, is powered by a 1.5-liter gas engine good for 110hp and 240Nm. Priced at P1.068 million, the vehicle hews to another company USP — giving value for money. It boasts, among other features, a start/stop button, smart key system, leather-wrapped interiors, parking assist view, rear and right-side mirror camera, and rear power outlet.

Mr. Tieng envisions adding more dealerships to the three BYD outlets (Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong City; Batangas City, Batangas; and Talisay City, Cebu), but not before focusing “on the marketability of the brand… to make sure the market understands what we’re offering,” he maintained.

“We want to make sure that the brand is accepted. From there, we can set how many dealerships we want [to establish]. But my goal is to bring it to key cities, maybe Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, Davao, then maybe three more in Luzon.”

The executive takes heart in the expected exemption of hybrids and electrics from the impending expanded excise taxation scheme to be implemented beginning 2018, which means these vehicles will not get price bumps. “Everything will be brought in next year,” he revealed, referring to alternatively powered BYDs.

Mr. Tieng wants customers to reconsider getting a BYD and look past the traditional reservation over choosing Chinese. “Our manufacturing supply chain sources parts internationally,” he shared. “Our batteries are Varta, used by brands like Lamborghini, Audi and Porsche; our body stamping plant is in a BYD-owned factory in Ogihara, Japan; our electrical system is Bosch; our painting system is ABB; our glass is by Saint Gobain… If you understand BYD, its vision is to manufacturer drive trains and chasses. The other components, the company will get from trusted brands.”

While he extolled the virtues of alternatively powered vehicles (such as promising savings over the long term), Mr. Tieng predicted Filipinos will have to hang on for a while longer before EVs become a viable reality here.

“I think it will take a little more time before we get better infrastructure, but I also think that, hopefully, public transportation [companies] will understand the value of going electric. When that happens, it will make more sense to set up the infra because of the huge need that they require.”

One thing that surely makes sense is prepping for the inevitability of more Earth-friendly vehicles — and they’re closer than we probably think.