Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Will Warren Buffett's Dreams Come True with Chinese Automaker BYD?

With Chinese automaker BYDopening its US headquarters in Los Angeles today, much of the attention will be focused on Berkshire Hathaway , the investment firm that owns 10% of BYD.

When Berkshire chairman Warren Buffett bought into BYD in 2009, the value of the company soared.

Not surprising, when you consider Berkshire's track record. After all, investors were probably thinking, "If Buffett thinks these guys are going to pay off, I need to get in on this company as well."

I wonder how those investors feel today. 

Shares of BYD are down 77% in the last year and 82% in almost 2 years.

BYD shares have been hammered in large part because the company saw an 85% plunge in profits in the first half of this year. Much of that due to car sales in China dropping 23% between January and June.

Against this backdrop, there will be a lot of talk in Los Angeles about the the Chinese automaker starting to sell its limited line-up of electric cars in the US. BYD hopes to begin fleet sales in the first quarter of next year and then have a retail sales later in 2012. But keep in mind BYD has yet to line up a dealer network and it's already behind schedule for rolling out cars here in the states.

The fact is, cracking the US market for any foreign automaker, not just the Chinese, isn't easy. Sure, BYD will eventually have a smattering of dealers around the country ready to sell cars imported from China, but the numbers will be low and the scrutiny will be high. There's already plenty of skeptics who doubt the Chinese can build a car that will have the reliability, styling, and safety features to succeed in the US. Some of those doubts are warranted. Others are not.

In short, it will be a long slog to win over Americans, regardless of whether Warren Buffett remains positive about BYD being able to "build your dreams."


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