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Watch out, Tesla: This Warren Buffett-backed Chinese electric vehicle maker plans US expansion

  • Warren Buffett-backed Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD has plans to expand its U.S. production
  • BYD sells its electric buses across the U.S., and Denver is one of its biggest customers

When President Donald Trump pushed "Made in America" week starting on Monday, Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD might not have been top of mind.

But the Warren Buffett-backed company has its sights set on expanding in the U.S. market with its Lancaster, California, production facility set for completion next month, Stella Li, president of BYD Motors, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Tuesday.

The facility, which employs around 700 people, will be able to annually produce 1,500 electric heavy-duty vehicles, such as municipal buses.

Li said BYD was also expanding into new product lines, such as electric refuse trucks and forklifts.

All in, BYD has already given better-known rival Tesla a run for its money: Tesla sold around 76,000 vehicles in 2016, while BYD clocked in more than 100,000 units in sales.

Li said that BYD's U.S. customer base wasn't just confined to green-focused California — the city of Denver is among its biggest customers.

"Our customer [base] is expanding into multiple [arenas] from public transit bus to the private one," she said, noting her company had orders from Facebook, Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco.

A BYD Co. electronic vehicle (EV) is charged at an EV charging station at the company's campus in the Pingshan district of Shenzhen, China.
Brent Lewin | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A BYD Co. electronic vehicle (EV) is charged at an EV charging station at the company's campus in the Pingshan district of Shenzhen, China.

Latin America was also a key developing market, she said, with BYD buses widely distributed there.

Li said her company initially faced customer resistance in the U.S. amid concerns that a Chinese company wouldn't stick around very long.

"Now it's much easier," she said, adding that attitudes changed as the company explained it was among the largest battery-makers in the world and could offer a 12-year warranty.

"Then we demonstrate the technology over and over," she said, noting that there were initial concerns about electric vehicles' range and performance, but the technology was now mature and accepted.

"Now more people view BYD as a global company," Li said.