Asian Companies Help Build Greener Public Transit Systems in the US

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by Zhonghe Zhu
A BYD bus driving through Yosemite National Park. Image: Official Twitter of BYD Company

Washington State recently took bids on proposals for up to 800 electric buses in its public transportation system. BYD, a Chinese automobile manufacturer, was awarded a major part of the contract to provide buses, with the winning bid in 10 of the 12 categories the Washington Department of Transportation was considering.

With the development of improved battery technology and energy efficiency, electric buses are seeing greater demand in public transportation systems around the world. Compared to buses run on fossil fuels, electric buses are cleaner, quieter, and can be more economical. Asian companies are starting to play a big role in green public transportation systems in the US. Even before winning the bids in Washington, BYD, the world’s largest electric buses manufacturer became the first Chinese vehicle company to build a manufacturing plant in the US. In October 2011, it established its headquarters in Los Angeles and built its Electric Bus and Energy Module factories in Lancaster, California. Over 180 Americans are employed at the plant.

In Washington State, BYD is the only bus manufacturer contracted by the Department of Transportation that will offer wireless on-route charging. The wireless charging technology enables the bus batteries to get recharged even at bus stops as they travel along their routes.  Another Asian firm is a leader in wireless charging technology. Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center (HATCI), which has been based in Ann Arbor, Michigan since 1986, was recently awarded a funding grant from the US Department of Energy. HATCI is partnering with US firm Mojo Mobility on the project, which will research and develop a system capable of rapidly charging electric vehicles wirelessly. HATCI is the design, technology, and engineering arm for all North American models produced by Korea’s Hyundai-Kia Motors Group. It has approximately 170 employees.

In addition to public transit systems, Asian automobile firms are contributing to the US market in other ways. Several Asian companies are currently debuting hydrogen fuel cell cars in the US. Demand for green cars also made the US an ideal test market for Kia’s first electric vehicle, which rolled out in California last year.

Zhonghe Zhu is a recent graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University and a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington.