BYD’s Billionaire Founder Seeks Overseas Buyers for His Monorail

  • Chairman Wang sees monorail as solution to gridlocked cities
  • Push into monorail business could help double BYD revenue

Wang Chuanfu.

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

BYD Co. is in discussions with several countries about exporting its monorail system, as its Chinese billionaire founder Wang Chuanfu seeks a new avenue of growth amid rising competition to sell electric vehicles in the world’s biggest auto market.

Wang, who started BYD as a manufacturer of handset batteries, took to the stage to promote the company’s monorail system at an urban transportation conference in Mexico City on Thursday. Besides Mexico, countries like India, Brazil and Indonesia also share the similar conditions that make monorail an attractive option: big and densely-populated cities that are struggling with traffic congestion, Wang said in an e-mailed response to questions.

“Monorail business can better tap into our edge on battery and engine-making capabilities as well as utilizing our global marketing strength,” Wang said in the e-mail. “We want to build another BYD by expanding the rail business.”

Wang, 50, told Bloomberg News in June that he was steering BYD into monorail, which he sees as the next major growth area for the company. Consisting of a single-track elevated railway that can be built on road dividers, monorail was a more affordable and feasible option for smaller cities than a subway system, he said at the time.

Read about the next big thing for Chinese billionaire Wang Chuanfu.

“Chinese cities certainly need better traffic solutions and monorails might be part of that,” said Jochen Siebert, the Singapore-based managing director of JSC Automotive Consulting. “BYD won’t be the only player in that market.”

The company’s foray into light transit is taking place as more competitors swarm into making electric vehicles after the government began encouraging businesses outside the traditional auto industry to try their hand at car making. Five companies have so far obtained permission to build EVs under the new initiative.

China is also working on rules to legalize makers of low-speed electric vehicles used mainly in the country’s rural areas, potentially introducing more competition by flooding the market with lower-priced offerings. BYD’s auto sales rose 12 percent in the first 10 months to 386,149 units, slower than the 15 percent gain in industrywide deliveries, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

Wang has said that the monorail business may add 100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) and help the company double its revenue, without providing a timeframe. Last year, BYD’s sales jumped 40 percent to 77.6 billion yuan, the fastest pace of expansion in six years, with about half coming from its automobile business.

BYD, which counts Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. as a shareholder, first made batteries for handset manufacturers before venturing into electric vehicles. The company has secured a 60 billion yuan funding commitment for its monorail from the China Development Bank. 

The company is in talks with several cities in China about building the light transit, Wang has said. BYD signed an agreement with Country Garden Holdings Co. last month to explore building monorail in the real-estate developer’s projects.

BYD’s first monorail line, a 4.4-kilometer (2.8 miles) track located in its headquarters campus in Shenzhen, became operational in October.

— With assistance by Ying Tian

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