Are diesel’s days numbered? A view from a trip to BYD’s electric bus factory

Buses emit a lot of carbon dioxide, but BYD is making our fleets cleaner.

Enlarge / The lines of sight in the BYD factory are all like this: a row of buses stretching to the horizon. (credit: Megan Geuss)

LANCASTER, CALIF.—One single diesel transit bus consumes the equivalent of 10,440 gallons of gasoline a year, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Replacing that diesel-burning transit bus with an electric bus has some obvious benefits. Electric buses improve local air quality, because the particulates that come from burning diesel don't exist. And, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, an electric bus runs cleaner than a diesel bus no matter where you plug it in on the US grid, even if you're plugging into a grid fed by a fossil fuels.

In the desert north of Los Angeles, a Chinese company called BYD (short for "Build Your Dreams") is banking on transit managers realizing this. BYD offered Ars a tour of its Lancaster facility in July, and we found a bustling factory floor filled with 900 workers who were building, welding, shaping, and painting about 90 buses in various states of completion. The company's workforce, recently unionized, is expected to grow to 1200 in the near future.

So far, BYD has put more than 250 electric buses on US roads, and as of mid-July, the company had more than 400 orders in the pipeline. That's a significant number of buses in this nascent industry: last December, Reuters estimated that only 300 public buses on US roads were electric. Of course, BYD's numbers include publicly- and privately-owned electric buses, while Reuters' statistic only tallies public buses. Still, the numbers show just how aggressively the electric bus industry is growing, considering the size of the market just six months ago.

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