THE showroom of BYD along Shaw Boulevard is full of surprises especially if one has a bias against Chinese cars.
For one, the showroom is neatly laid out. Then the vehicles on display look as if they were not assembled or made in China, because the fit and finish of their exterior are at par with those of Japanese, American or even European cars.
The BYD S6 SUV on display also looks more like it’s designed and manufactured by a Japanese car company. Like all the other vehicles on display at the BYD showroom, the doors of the S6 close like a bank vault or without the empty thud that characterizes low-end vehicles. And the interior make-up of the S6 feels more European, because it is rich in leather and its interior space rivals midsized SUVs. The S6 also has an LED instrument panel that displays the speedometer, odometer and other vital readouts.
But the biggest surprise of the BYD showroom is the Qin sedan that is considered the brand’s flagship model because it is a technological tour de force. BYD Auto claims the Qin can sprint from zero to 100 kilometers per hour in 5.9 seconds and that is not an empty claim because the sports sedan has a total of 300 horsepower on tap from its hybrid system that consists of a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine and an electric motor that can spin up to 12,000 revolutions per minute.
Inside, the Qin feels more like a luxury sedan because it has loads of leather and has many buttons, dials and digital readouts. It also has a 360-degree Panoramic Parking Assist system and the Qin can be moved and parked by its driver using a small remote control that also serves as the owner’s keyless control to unlock the car.
The Qin like the S6 also has a LED readout for its gauges, and the sedan comes with air-conditioned leather seats that is a revolutionary way to beat the heat when the weather is really cruel.
Priced at over P2 million, the Qin is definitely not for motorists who buy Chinese cars because of their prices.
“In products manufactured in China, there will always be good products and generic products. So you have to understand that BYD isn’t the cheapest product available and price isn’t our biggest selling point,” said Mark Andew Tieng, managing director of Solar Transport and Automotive Resources Corporation (STAR Corp.), the authorized Philippine distributor of BYD Auto China Ltd. Company. STAR Corp. is part of the Solar Group of Companies.
“So I don’t think we are a typical China brand,” he added.
BYD stands for Build Your Dreams
BYD Auto is actually part of the huge BYD conglomerate based in China that has three major segments. BYD’s other businesses are information technology and batteries.
Tieng said BYD Auto is already a “global brand” with a presence in at least 83 countries. Warren Buffet, one of the richest people in the world, also took a 10-percent stake in BYD Auto in 2011 for $230 million.
“What’s interesting about Warren Buffet is he has an eye for investments. So his mantra is if you study your stocks well, you don’t have to review stock prices anymore. That’s how he believes in the [BYD] brand,” he added.
“So Warren Buffet, according to my research, he invested in BYD for two reasons: No. 1, he really believes in environment protection and technology. And No. 2, he really believes in the chairman of BYD,” Tieng said.
The chairman of BYD is Wang Chuanfu, a chemical engineer and one of the richest people in China.
“He [Wang] is defined as a mix Jack Welch and Thomas Edison. Jack Welch is a famous management guru and Thomas Edison was a famous inventor,” Tieng said.
Buffet and Wang, however, were not the only reasons why the Solar Group invested to represent the BYD brand in the Philippines. Tieng explained the Solar Group initially studied different car brands from Russia, Brazil, India and China that can have a potential in the Philippine market.
“We were looking at the [Philippine] motoring industry [and]we thought there is an opportunity there and we looked at brands that we can represent. But all the European, Japanese and American brands are all taken already,” he said.
“We looked at about 100 brands and we thought among those 100 brands, we think BYD is the most relevant. Why? No. 1, BYD from the start appreciates quality. They are a privately-owned company and they’re not government-owned. They are a publicly-listed company, so their brand reputation means a lot to them,” Tieng added.
DOING BUSINESS IN A DIFFERENT WAY
Tieng said BYD Auto does business in a different way. While most Chinese car firms want to manufacture almost every component of a vehicle, BYD Auto chose to focus on manufacturing the major components of a vehicle and sourced the remaining parts from reputable suppliers.
“Compared to other Chinese brands, what BYD did was they identified key components they would manufacture. And everything else they outsourced,” he added.
“Other Chinese firms manufactured everything from the screws all the way to the engine. That [approach]gives you less focus on quality,” Tieng said.
A good example of vehicle parts that are outsourced by BYD Auto are the batteries which are from Varta from Germany and the wiring harnesses and windshield wipers which are from Bosch, also based in Germany.
With that approach, BYD can focus its efforts on developing quality engines, transmissions and other major components of a vehicle.
“So that’s why when you look at initial quality of a BYD car, when you open, close the doors, the trunk, the fitment, the guide, everything is already at par in terms of quality with the Japanese,” Tieng said.
But what may have convinced the Solar Group to represent the BYD Auto in the Philippines is the car company is perhaps the most forward looking when it comes to caring for the environment.
Tieng said at present, the size of the car market in China is 19 million units a year from a population of about 1.3 billion. On the other hand, car sales in the United States reached 16.7 million last year from a population of almost 319 million.
He added that once car sales in China reach the same level as the United States based on population, the world would be hard-pressed to supply the fuel needs of the millions of cars in China.
“So BYD’s vision is to go into alternative fuel vehicles. So that’s why they have electric buses, electric cars and they launched their electric products as early as 2009. They were actually ahead of Tesla when they launched their electric cars,” Tieng said.
Although BYD Auto has vehicles that can be considered up-class, one of its more popular products are electric taxis like the E6 sedan.
“It [E6] is now a taxi in Shenzen with 300 units. It’s also a taxi in Hong Kong, Singapore, London and New York,” Tieng said.
He explained that replacing fuel-fed taxis with electric taxis is good for the environment.
“So imagine a city using electric cars as taxis. A typical taxi is equivalent to 17 gasoline car emissions because they are running the whole day,” Tieng said.
BYD’s electric-powered buses are also servicing commuters in Malaysia, Japan, the United States and many other countries.
NO MAJOR WARRANTY CLAIMS
To make sure BYD gets a bigger following in the Philippines in the next few years, Tieng said STAR Corp. is making sure its customers are happy with the after-sales services of the brand’s dealers.
“We have no major warranty claims and that we are very proud of. And we plan to make those customers [of BYD]satisfied,” he added.
“Of course, we would like to sell more, but we have to start somewhere. So as long as we maintain those customers and make them happy, they will refer more customers to us,” Tieng said.
STAR Corp. also boasts of its Five-Star after-sales service that has five components: five-year warranty on BYD vehicles; complete service facilities; genuine BYD parts; the BYD Response Operation or “BRO” where a hotline is in operation to address the needs and concerns of the brand’s vehicle owners; and 24-hour vehicle emergency assistance from AAP (Automobile Association of the Philippines).
Tieng said part of BRO is servicing vehicles at the home or office of the owners, which may be a first in the Philippines.
“We call it the BYD mobile service for [BYD] owners who don’t have time to bring their cars to the dealership. So we offer what we call the premium home service. This is something unique and was launched last year,” he added.
Over the next few years, STAR Corp. is eyeing an expanded presence in the country through the establishment of additional dealerships. It has three dealers in Luzon today with the one in Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City being the “central dealer.”
The two other dealerships are in North EDSA in Quezon City and Batangas City.
Tieng said in the next three to five years, STAR Corp. is planning to add dealerships in Makati or Alabang (Muntinlupa City), Pampanga, Cebu and Davao City or Cagayan de Oro.
THE TARGET MARKET
A product of the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, the 30-year old Tieng said the target market for BYD vehicles in the Philippines are from 25 to 55 years old and are familiar with the latest trends in technology.
He added that buyers of BYD vehicles are usually top-level manager or owners of their business.
“Our target market are really people who appreciate technology. They are normally movers and shakers of industries or high-level managers. They are very open-minded they are very outgoing, they [also]manage their own businesses,” Tieng said.
When it comes to marketing the BYD brand, he added what STAR Corp. wants to show to car buyers is the Chinese brand can boast of its technologies and a high level of quality.
“We highlight our quality, our technology, design, safety and of course, our five-star customer service program,” Tieng said.
Obviously, the vehicle that can showcase what direction BYD is taking in vehicle design in the future is the Qin that has succeeded in generating a buzz of its own in the Philippines.
“During the 2015 MIAS [Manila International Auto Show] where it was launched, the reception toward the car [Qin] was so hot [and]immediately we had to schedule some test drives. Even media outfits were competing to borrow it for a week,” Tieng said.
“It’s really set a benchmark in automotive [design], because you get the benefits of a sports car without the drawbacks [of high fuel consumption],” he added.
Of course, what sets the Qin apart from the rest of the luxury and sport sedans in the country is it can be used as a daily driver in the city with zero fuel consumption. A full charge of the Qin can last 70 kilometers and even propel it to 150 kilometers per hour. And charging its batteries is as simple as plugging its charger to a standard 220-volt socket.
“That’s why it [Qin] makes everything else look like the past generation,” Tieng said.
So there’s no question BYD is indeed a global brand and Tieng believes in sharing the brand’s dreams in the Philippines.