BYD deal with Windsor ends, company opens in California

An exclusivity agreement between the City of Windsor and electric bus manufacturer BYD has expired and the Chinese manufacturer opened a factory in California.

Mayor Eddie Francis, BYD say Windsor still being considered as place to build buses

BYD was to open a North American manufacturing plant in Lancaster, Calif., today. (Associated Press file photo)

An exclusivity agreement between the City of Windsor and electric bus manufacturer BYD has expired.

For its part of the deal, the city had intended to purchase as many as 10 electric buses from the Chinese company and add at least two of them to its Transit Windsor fleet by the fall of 2012.

That didn't happen.

The agreement also stated BYD would stop looking for a North American municipality in which to manufacture the buses while Transit Windsor ran pilots with the buses. Buses were never purchased because they have not yet received Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards approval.

"The ball is in their court," said Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis.  "We’re waiting for the buses to be approved by Transport Canada. I’m told that by the end of May that should be achieved. Until that happens we’re really in a holding pattern."

BYD insists Windsor is still being considered as a place to manufacture buses.

"BYD is still very interested in working with Windsor and [we] have met with Mayor Francis to assure his personal commitment to buying electric buses from BYD when our CMVSS approvals are completed," BYD's North America president Michael Austin wrote to CBC News in an email. "The Canadian markets need zero-emissions, electrified transportation solutions very badly.  BYD hopes to support [that]. Nothing has changed with our intentions in Windsor."

BYD was to open a North American manufacturing plant in Lancaster, Calif., today. The company will build buses there in the length of 12 metres or 39 feet, the very buses anticipated to be used and built in Windsor.

Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris and officials of BYD Automotive scheduled a news conference Wednesday to announce details of the plan for facilities in the high-desert city northeast of Los Angeles.

BYD, which opened its North American headquarters in Los Angeles in 2010, says the plant will initially turn out 10 electric buses for the city of Long Beach. It expects the vehicles, with a range of 150 miles between charges, to be delivered next year. In April, the Long Beach Transit Authority awarded BYD a $12.1 million contract for the zero-emission buses, a company statement said. 

Company officials didn't immediately say how many people they expect the Lancaster plant to employ, saying only that it could be "hundreds" in the years ahead. Its North American headquarters has about 40 people.

In Windsor, where the unemployment rate continues to hover around nine per cent, Francis said BYD officials told him they would like manufacture up to 500 buses per year in Windsor.

"That’s 500 direct jobs and that doesn’t include the parts supply chain up stream and downstream," Francis told CBC News last year.

Auto industry expert Tony Faria said regardless of an exclusivity agreement, Windsor remains an attractive location for any vehicle or transport manufacturing company to set up shop.

"While we've seen the auto industry move south ... Windsor still remains a core location," Faria said.

Faria noted the number of suppliers, machine, tool, die and mold makers that already exist in Windsor or within five hours of it.

"All the needs of any transportation or auto assembly operation exist right here," he said. "This is still a wonderful location."