BYD: Innovative tech leader develops electric vehicles, urban monorails
Links brand mission to national development goals
General Manager of Branding & Public Relations
BYD is a global leader in rechargeable batteries and clean energy transportation, including electric vehicles, and monorails. Sherry Li rose rapidly after joining BYD, in 2005, as secretary to the chairman and president. Since 2016 she has served as General Manager of Branding & Public Relations.
COMPANY AND MARKET
BYD is such a diversified technology company, what is its unifying vision?
We call our strategy, “Three Green Dreams.” These dreams, and business areas, are: solar power, energy storage, and electrified transportation. We would like to use these “Three Green Dreams” to achieve a zero-emission ecosystem for the whole society. Just last year we officially launched BYD Skyrail, a monorail system that we developed to address the problems created by China’s rapid economic development. Although this growth helped many people, it produced terrible pollution and traffic congestion. Skyrail is designed to solve these problems, with a more affordable option than subways for smaller cities, both in China and other parts of the world.
How did the company develop so broadly from a focus on batteries?
Anticipating the growth of battery technology and the potential for electric cars, Wang Chuanfu, a chemist, established BYD in 1995. The company soon produced a concept electric car but focused on building its battery business. Initial customers included major phone handset suppliers, such as Nokia and Motorola. Because these businesses also needed components, such as keypads, BYD extended its technology expertise beyond batteries. With this initiative, BYD become a leading OEM supplier. To develop electric cars, BYD required a license from the Chinese government, which the company obtained in 2003, with its acquisition of a state-owned automobile company. Critics argued that electric cars still compromised the environment because the generation of electricity required burning fossil fuels. In response, BYD entered another business—solar power—with a presence at each phase of the supply chain. And the solar business led to the development of solar energy storage stations. Today, we divide the business into four linked industrial areas: IT, automobiles, new energy, and rapid transit.
What are the key challenges for Chinese brands expanding abroad?
A Chinese company entering the global market needs to be cautious about the brand image. Ten years ago, a lot of Chinese manufacturers were first exploring the overseas market. For many Chinese companies expanding abroad the most important factor was the cost-performance ratio. After the products sold relatively easily, these Chinese manufacturers concluded that the overseas business was quite simple. However, they learned that they could not guarantee good after-sales service. That’s why overseas consumers had questions about products with the Made in China designation.
How has BYD distinguished itself outside of China?
We were cautious when we entered the overseas market. We wanted to position BYD as an innovative technology company, different from other Chinese companies. We used our knowhow in high technology to fill gaps in overseas markets. For example, when we first entered the US market, around five years ago, we used electric buses to open the market because we had more advanced battery technology. Most competitors at the time produced buses with hybrid technologies. We also introduced our electric buses to Europe, Japan, and Singapore. This helped build strong BYD brand awareness. When we first expanded abroad we looked for the products that could best represent the company.
How does China’s Belt and Road initiative affect BYD?
We believe that the emphasis on Belt and Road in the 19th Congress is a good development. It should help our continued overseas growth. But BYD is already a global company, present on five continents. Over 200 cities outside of China have already expressed interest in our electric vehicles and solar and energy storage. We operate factories and offices in more than 10 countries. Our business is diversified and includes: business-to-consumer, our consumer vehicles in China; business-to-business, our buses and taxis; and we do business-to-government with projects like Skyrail, which are planned for the Philippines and Egypt.
我们认为十九大强调的“一带一路”战略对我们十分有利，必将帮助我们实现海外持续增长。比亚迪已经是一家全球性企业，业务遍布五大洲，有200多个海外城市对我们的电动汽车、太阳能和储能产品感兴趣。我们在10多个国家开设了工厂和办事处，多元化业务包括B2C业务-我们在中国生产消费性汽车；B2B业务 - 向企业提供巴士和出租车；以及B2G业务 - 为政府打造“云轨”这样的项目，云轨已计划出口到菲律宾和埃及。
How important is social responsibility at BYD?
In the 19th Congress, President Xi described how the main challenges of China have changed. People in China have a strong desire to pursue a better life. However, prosperity is not yet shared by all Chinese people. And a great disparity exists between those who have and have not benefited from China’s development over the past several decades. Our mission at BYD is to use our new energy technology to help people live a better life. Our corporate mission coincides with the national mission.
How does BYD help advance this agenda of building a more equitable nation?
We use our technology and products to help solve China’s problems. Almost all our products are green, which is an important part of social responsibility. Electric vehicles still represent a small part of the total market, but the growth rate has speeded up over the past several years, in part because of BYD. Today, people often think of electric cars as transportation for the rich. BYD intends to provide affordable electric vehicles for all citizens. For example, in 2010 we introduced our electric taxis and they were met with skepticism. Some people were concerned that would run out of power and block traffic. Today, electrified public transportation is a national strategy. BYD will play an important role in the transition from gasoline-fueled transportation.
我们用技术和产品助力解决中国面临的问题。我们的产品几乎都做到了绿色环保，这是履行社会责任的重要体现。电动汽车仍然只占市场总量的一小部分，但其增长速度在过去几年已逐步提升，在这方面，比亚迪功不可没。今天，很多人仍然认为电动汽车是富人的专利。而比亚迪则致力于生产普通人可以负担得起的平价电动汽车。2010年，我们推出了电动出租车，却遭到了质疑 - 有人担心它会中途断电继而阻塞交通。现在，电动公共交通已经成为一项国家战略。比亚迪将在淘汰燃油交通工具、代之以电动交通工具的进程中发挥重要作用。
THE CAR CATEGORY
What would be the impact on BYD if Tesla were to enter China without a Chinese partner, as has been reported?
We respect Tesla. Without Tesla, the electric vehicle era will take longer to actualize. We warmly welcome more electric vehicle players into the Chinese market. The electric vehicle market is booming, but it is still very small. If you take the whole transportation market in China, the electric vehicle portion is less than 2 percent. We would like more players to work together with BYD to increase the electric vehicle market and ensure that more Chinese people can gain access to quality products. BYD is the world’s largest maker and seller of electric vehicles. We enjoyed a 13 percent share of the electric vehicle global market last year. Tesla is number two.
Sales of Chinese brand cars in China exceeded 10 million for the second consecutive year. Do you see that trend continuing?
I expect that this trend will continue, and sales of Chinese brand cars will grow. The SUV segment is especially strong. The quality of Chinese brand cars has increased a lot. The top priority of Chinese car buyers is quality. And the quality of Chinese and foreign brand cars is now comparable. And the design of Chinese brand cars has improved.
A year ago, strong car sales were driven in part by the consumer rush to buy new energy cars before the government reduced its subsidy. How did car sales behave more recently?
For the first quarter of 2017, sales of electric vehicles in China were soft for two reasons. First, the government subsidy decreased. Second, and the main reason, is that after the government revised the subsidy it did not immediately explain the revised policy. The uncertainty impacted sales. Once the policy was clarified the sales pace resumed, indicating that many Chinese consumers still want to purchase electric vehicles even with lower subsidies. Also, BYD will soon introduce electric vehicles that are comparable in price to gas-powered vehicles.
How do you market and promote the BYD brand?
We see brand as a kind of bridge between the company and the citizens. BYD’s brand mission is “Technological innovations for a better life” We need to communicate to several audiences. We use three approaches: social, traditional, and PR. Teenagers, our future customers, have new ideas and are very brave about saying what they believe. To reach teenagers, we communicate around hot topics on social media to build an emotional connection. To create awareness among the general public we use CCTV, billboards, and other traditional media. We use various PR tools, to reach opinion leaders, such as industry experts, investors, government officials, and media people. Overseas, we have Leonardo DiCaprio as our spokesperson. As the environment ambassador of the United Nations, he is a strong voice. We share the same vision about protecting the environment and confronting climate change. We collaborated on a campaign about cooling the earth by one degree.