Offshoring Reversed: Chinese Renewables Company BYD Sets Up Shop in US

Last Updated Apr 30, 2010 8:43 PM EDT

BYD is becoming one of the more interesting companies in renewable energy. After starting off in the battery market, the company branched off into electric cars and solar panels. It gained some notoriety when Warren Buffet bought a 10 percent share. And now BYD has really set itself aside from the pack, by choosing to open a new facility in Los Angeles instead of its native China.

Although it's not well known in the US -- yet -- BYD is big news back home, with some 150,000 employees and a chairman who is the local equivalent of Buffet, with a $5 billion fortune. For its US headquarters, BYD plans to initially hire up to 150 new employees, just a tiny fraction of its total.

Still, it's rare to see a Chinese company coming overseas to the US, rather than the other way around. Renewable energy hasn't escaped the offshoring craze, and China is increasingly becoming a hub for wind and solar power manufacturing. Even higher-level jobs are now headed to China; Applied Materials, for instance, just set up a massive research facility for solar tech in Xi'an.

The catch is that big companies can't get away with siting themselves in a single country, and BYD has big plans for the US. Just a few weeks ago, for instance, KB Homes cut the ribbon on several test homes in California that are powered by solar panels during the day, and BYD's batteries by night.

BYD is also planning on selling solar panels in the future, and is working on its line of electric vehicles to make them acceptable for Western standards. But to do so, it will need a significant presence in the US -- meaning up to 2,000 employees at the new Los Angeles site, according to chairman Wang Chuan-fu.

And BYD isn't totally alone. Back in November, Suntech Power announced that it would become the first Chinese solar company to build a factory in the US, placing it near Phoenix, Arizona, while several Chinese wind power companies have also made noises about hiring overseas. In the future, offshoring may not be such a one-way street.