Downtown-based BYD Motors has committed to hiring almost half of its local manufacturing team from underserved populations, a move that experts said will add points to the company’s electric bus sales proposal going before the Metropolitan Transportation Authority this week.
The MTA is scheduled to meet on Thursday to vote on contracts that will select suppliers to manufacture its electric vehicles. Its 2,300-bus fleet has been without electric buses since 2015.
On the agenda are recommendations from MTA staff for bids from BYD and Crookston, Minn.-based New Flyer of America Inc. for 160 articulated electric buses, or buses that have an accordion design in the middle to help turn corners, ranging from 40 feet to 60 feet long. MTA staff has recommended BYD’s bid for 60 of the 40-foot-long zero-emissions buses at a cost of $46 million for the vehicles, plus upgrades, equipment and other additions that bring the total price tag to $66 million, according to MTA documents.
That would be its most lucrative deal in the region and particularly important after the company had to recall several buses sold to MTA four years ago because of manufacturing defects.
BYD last week agreed to sweeten the deal with local-hiring provisions contained in a community benefits agreement.
“Our core values are about cleaning the air and creating jobs here in California,” said Macy Neshati, vice president of BYD.
The contract was signed with groups including Jobs to Move America, which is a coalition of community groups, and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation union.
Such agreements are basic contracts that are legally binding among the parties involved and enforceable under California contract law.
“It is not uncommon for bidders vying for local government contracts to do this,” said John Drayton, director of vehicle technology at MTA.
BYD is the U.S. subsidiary of Chinese electric vehicle and battery manufacturer BYD Co. Ltd. The abbreviation stands for “Build Your Dreams.”
The company opened its North American headquarters in downtown in 2011 and set up a manufacturing facility in Lancaster in 2013. That facility has grown from 90,000 square feet to 400,000 square feet and has 600 employees, which with its downtown site brings the total number of workers to 700.
Neshati said the company expects to produce 25 to 30 buses a month, but that depends on contracts with local government transit agencies and other companies. In the L.A. region the company has provided 10 buses to Long Beach Transit and four each to Palm Springs and Anaheim.
BYD had a setback in 2013 after it was contracted to build as many as 25 electric buses for MTA and the first five buses to come off production had manufacturing defects.
“The installations, the way the doors were made and the fact that they would need to be charged every 200 to 300 miles proved to be unworkable for us,” Drayton said.
BYD eventually took its buses off L.A. streets and promised to replace the first batch, which is under production.
The company also dealt with allegations of wage theft after the state labor commissioner accused it of failing to pay Chinese nationals working at its Lancaster facility California’s minimum wage. The state later dropped the wage citations.
“It’s an important step the company has taken in holding itself accountable legally and helping the job market by hiring from disadvantaged groups like women and African Americans,” said Erica Patterson, national policy director of Jobs to Move America.
– Shwanika Narayan
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