NEWSWATCH

Long Beach Transit Staff Finds Problems With New
Zero Emission Bus Frames At Chinese Factory

By Samantha Mehlinger - Staff Writer

October 8, 2013 – During a trip to China, Long Beach Transit (LBT) inspectors found that the frames of LBT’s new zero emission buses, built by the Chinese-based company Build Your Dreams (BYD), were flawed.

The inspectors discovered “unacceptable” issues with the bus frames, including “improper bracket installation” on the bus sidewalls and roof assemblies and inconsistencies with steel subassemblies on the chassis, according to a staff report.

At the September 23 meeting of the seven-member Long Beach Transit Board of Directors, Rolando Cruz, executive director and vice president of maintenance and facilities at LBT, said that more than 20 BYD engineers immediately went to work resolving these issues. He told the board that the flawed frame was for BYD’s engineering bus – a bus he said BYD is building “on their own dime” for quality assurance before LBT’s pilot bus is built.

Despite assurance from Cruz that BYD would not begin building LBT’s buses until problems with the frames are resolved, a staff report indicates that the frame for LBT’s pilot bus has already been built and inspected.

Kevin Lee, marketing manager for LBT, explained that BYD’s contract allows the company to pre-build components of LBT buses. “Of course, if something needed to be rebuilt or modified due to data from Altoona, then it would be,” he added. The government requires Altoona testing (a certification process to meet U.S. standards) before buses may be put into service.

The BYD engineering bus frame is going to be shipped to the production facility in Lancaster imminently, Cruz said at the meeting. Once there, the engineering bus is to be built while Altoona testing continues on a separate BYD bus built for testing purposes.

“Why not wait to see if there are more problems before building an engineering bus?” LBT Boardmember Maricela De Rivera questioned during the meeting. “What if something breaks tomorrow?”

De Rivera’s concern is related to a report made by Cruz to the board in August indicating that cracks on the test bus, caused by improper welding, occurred during testing. The problem was fixed and then road mileage tests began from scratch – putting testing completion behind by an estimated three months, according to Cruz.

LBT Boardmember Lori Ann Farrell concurred with De Rivera that building the engineering bus before Altoona testing is complete is “premature.” The two were the only boardmembers to oppose the BYD contract, which was approved in March. LBT had the opportunity to contract with Proterra, an American company that already had its zero-emission buses put through the rigors of Altoona, and had its buses in use in several U.S. cities.

BYD America Vice President Micheal Austin weighed in on the matter. “There is not a bus that goes through Altoona that does not have some sort of [issue],” he told the Business Journal. Cracking in particular is “a very common problem” amongst buses built by any company during Altoona testing, he said, adding that the test is meant to reveal where buses are likely to wear down to help plan preventative maintenance.

Kenneth McDonald, CEO of LBT, informed the board that he met with BYD to discuss building the engineering bus while testing continues, and that he is comfortable with this process. Sometime in the next few months, LBT staff plans to visit the Utah Transit Authority, which has a bus that uses the same wireless advanced vehicle electrification (WAVE) charging technology that LBT’s buses will feature, although it was not built by BYD. “This is the first implementation of WAVE at a transit agency on a route, so LBT will be reviewing the WAVE system in action as it runs the route and charges,” Lee explained.

While BYD has contracted with several other public organizations for zero emission buses – Austin cites the Los Angeles and New York Metropolitan Transit Authorities, as well as the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, as examples – these do not employ WAVE technology.

LBT’s fleet is set to be “the largest implementation” of this technology to date, Austin said, and added that BYD has worked with the technology for more than a year. LBT was awarded a Transit Investments in Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction grant from the Federal Transit Administration to incorporate WAVE on its zero emission buses.

BYD Responds To Media Criticism

BYD’s America Vice President Micheal Austin sent the Business Journal the following statement regarding the China-based company and its buses:

“We’re very enthusiastic about building these buses in Lancaster, California. We think it is such a positive message: building California buses with California jobs . . . Here is a foreign entity wanting to invest in our economy. I feel bad when we have foreign entities watching the media in the United States report negative messages: ‘Oh, this is foreign investment.’ Who cares if they’re Chinese dollars? It’s investing in our economy. For many years, the U.S. has been investing in the China economy and sending our factories over there. It’s about time for China to invest in our economy. We should be heralding this change, this shift, instead of putting such a negative spin on it. When the Chinese perceive that the United States doesn’t want their investment, it doesn’t yield the results that we want. We want more Chinese investment.”