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China: Batteries put a charge into BYD’s fortunes

You probably have something made by BYD in your home or pocket and don’t even know it.

That’s because BYD, the Chinese company that is 10 percent owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc., makes nearly all of its million batteries a day for other companies, including cellphone makers Nokia, Samsung and Motorola, said BYD spokesman Micheal Austin of Chicago.

So when you see “BYD” on a lime-green cylinder, it catches your eye. American consumers may be seeing more electronic goodies with the BYD brand, Austin said.

That’s important to Berkshire, which has seen the price of its BYD holdings drop in recent years because of lagging sales and uncertainty over BYD’s plans to import its electric cars to the United States.

But the battery business has been a solid hit for BYD, which built market shares of 50 percent for cordless phone batteries and 35 percent for cellphone batteries, Austin said.

The new green cylinder is part of BYD’s Mobile Power line. You charge it up by plugging its USB plug into a computer, with the other end of the wire in the cylinder’s “in” socket. Colored lights show how much charge the iron phosphate battery holds.

To charge a cellphone or other mobile device, you shift the wire to the stick’s “out” socket, connect the device and flip a switch to “on.” The power stick can give your phone about two days’ worth of power. The stick comes with a wire, but for some devices you need a different type of plug.

When you’re not using the power stick, you flip the switch to “off” and, in storage mode, it loses about 0.5 percent of its power each month, Austin said. So after sitting for a year, the stick still has 90 percent of its power.

Power sticks are not new, but BYD’s version has some advantages because its chemicals aren’t harmful, Austin said. The company sold out the 4,000 it brought to the Berkshire annual meeting last spring, but they aren’t available in stores. Some Internet sites say they aren’t available online, but a few sites offer them for $19.95.



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