China’s BYD Looks to Triple Sales of Electric Vehicles

BYD is taking a fresh look at its electric car strategy, betting that the wider adoption of its electric vehicles for public transportation will boost sales significantly.

The Shenzhen-based company, which has struggled for years to develop its green-cars business, aims to more than triple its electric-vehicle sales this year to 8,000 units, including 2,000 buses, with the bulk of the cars targeted at the taxicab industry. BYD., Warren Buffett’s highest-profile investment in China, sold just 1,700 electric cars and 700 electric buses last year.

“We feel that the use of electric vehicles in public transport is the first step and a more realistic way to promote and popularize the products,” said Liu Xueliang, general manager for Asia-Pacific auto sales at BYD, during a tour of the company’s production facilities in southern China.

“With the more widespread use of our electric cars in public transport, we can further promote them to government organizations and retail car buyers,” Mr. Liu said. BYD has several hundred electric taxicabs and buses operating in Shenzhen under partnerships with local companies, and hopes to expand the program elsewhere.

Mr. Liu said the company next month would announce plans regarding the introduction of BYD’s green vehicles in Hong Kong, the company’s first major market for electric cars outside mainland China. BYD also is looking at introducing all-electric taxicabs in London the year, Mr. Liu said, and other cities in Europe, Southeast Asia and South America also are being considered.

The company aims to sell 500,000 gasoline-powered cars this year, up 9.6% from last year, lifted by new models and improved consumer sentiment.

BYD had sought to promote its green cars through celebrity endorsements and adoption by government and corporate fleets, but the efforts failed to raise the mass appeal of the company’s first all-electric car, the e6, after the model’s October 2011 Shenzhen unveiling. Electric cars accounted for less than 1% of BYD’s total car sales last year.

BYD’s background in battery production caught the attention of Mr. Buffett in 2008 as interest in electric vehicles grew in the face of high oil prices and a push to reduce emissions. A subsidiary of Mr. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. BRKB