Chinese electric carmaker BYD Co. opened its North American headquarters on Monday, a move that officials said could bring hundreds of jobs and provide a U.S. hub for sales and research.
The opening will be "a catalyst that ushers in good jobs, global investment and a more sustainable future," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.
Agreements were signed at the two-story building, which is surrounded by traditional car dealerships. Officials were driven to the ceremony in a BYD-built all-electric bus that the Hertz rental company is adding to its shuttle fleet at Los Angeles International Airport.
Hertz Corp. also is making the company's e6 _ a five-seat electric car with a 187-mile range _ available for rentals at the airport.
BYD, which is backed by billionaire Warren Buffett, makes electric and hybrid cars, charging systems, solar panels and LED lighting. BYD will import its electric cars and buses from overseas, concentrating on fleet sales but beginning consumer sales next year.
The headquarters could provide up to 150 engineering and management jobs, officials said. It also could generate hundreds of other jobs in related industries, such as car repair and solar panel installation, Villaraigosa said.
The company is a good fit for a city that is innovative, wants to develop a green technology sector and already has China as its largest trading partner _ $190 billion worth last year, Villaraigosa said.
The company already has various deals with Los Angeles to test its cars and charging systems.
Global automakers and ambitious startups are racing to develop all-electric and hybrid cars as governments offer tax breaks and subsidies to promote alternative energy in hopes of reducing surging demand for oil.
Nissan Motor Corp.'s Leaf became the first all-electric model on the U.S. market in December. It competes with General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet Volt, which uses an electric battery and a small gasoline motor for an additional charge.
BYD, which stands for "Build Your Dreams," is based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen but it is half-owned by U.S. interests. Its profits plunged this year because of a drop in car sales and tighter profit margins caused by competition.
The Los Angeles headquarters will be the center for fleet sales of electric cars and buses. It also will house research and development facilities and will be the center of marketing, design, and sales support for its solar and LED businesses, according to BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu.
The headquarters will benefit from being close to the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, which together comprise the nation's largest port complex. In addition, under Los Angeles anti-smog incentives, there will be a tariff reduction on the imported electric cars.