LOS ANGELES, Calif.–Chinese automaker BYD opened its North American headquarters downtown today, marking a victory for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s full-court press to get new businesses to locate in the city.
BYD, which stands for Build Your Dreams, makes electric and hybrid cars.
It also manufactures solar power systems, rechargeable batteries and LED lights.
“By reaching out to the world and harnessing L.A.’s unique resources, we have attracted China’s leading green company to our city,” Villaraigosa said. “BYD’s new home in downtown Los Angeles is the latest sign that we are a growing hub of clean-technology jobs.”
Landing the company’s headquarters did not come for free. The city offered a 15 percent tariff reduction for BYD’s car-imports through the Port of Los Angeles, a bonus offered to all zero-emission car importers.
The mayor also secured a guarantee from the Department of Water and Power to install all car battery chargers in customers’ homes within a week of requests. LAX will display a BYD car, once the company begins selling them in the U.S., and the city guaranteed that a celebrity would drive one of its cars to the annual Oscars party held at the Getty House.
BYD, based in Shenzhen, China, is 50 percent owned by U.S. investors, including an arm of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
The company renovated a building in the 1800 block of South Figueroa Street at the southern edge of downtown. The building, in an area populated by auto dealerships, had been empty and did not meet earthquake safety standards prior to the renovation, according to the mayor’s office.
BYD will employ about 150 engineers and managers.
“BYD is thrilled to be making this investment in Los Angeles, a global city working towards a green, sustainable future,” Chairman Wang Chuanfu said.
“We look forward to a long, productive relationship with the city.”
Villaraigosa gave credit for securing BYD’s commitment to his former deputy mayor for economic development, 2013 mayoral candidate Austin Beutner.
Los Angeles was not on BYD’s list of possible locations until Beutner helped identify regulations and red tape that could be cut or reduced to satisfy the company, the mayor said.
Specifically, the city assigned case managers in the departments of Water and Power and Building and Safety to shepherd BYD’s renovations through the permitting process. The city also gave the company early advice about submitting paperwork for permits, and expedited review of the company’s submissions.
Still, BYD is opening its North American headquarters nearly 11 months behind schedule and with fewer workers than originally promised. During an announcement in April 2010, BYD said it would have 150 employees in Los Angeles by the end of this year. The company is opening with 20 employees with plans to reach 100 by the end of 2012, Bloomberg Businessweek reported.
The mayor officially announced plans today to travel to China, Japan and South Korea in December for a trade mission.
“The delegation will meet with business and government leaders to build a stronger economic relationship, including investment in L.A businesses, increasing L.A. exports and creating L.A jobs,” according to a statement from his office.
The Port and Los Angeles World Airports will cover the $295,000 cost of the 11-day trip, according the mayor’s office.