De Lijn under heavy fire for preferring 500 Chinese BYD buses

Flemish public transport operator De Lijn orders 92 standard electric buses from Chinese bus maker BYD. The order, representing an investment of over 43 million euros, follows the award by De Lijn’s board of directors of a new framework agreement of up to 500 standard e-buses to BYD Europe.

The order earned De Lijn a lot of criticism, partly because Flemish bus builder Van Hool missed the order. Van Hool has been in bad shape for years, as about 65% of the 2 300 workers are economically unemployed this week.

This is the first time De Lijn has ordered large e-buses from the Chinese manufacturer, which came out on top in a public tender. Since June, as many as seven smaller Chinese-made buses have been driving around Bruges for De Lijn. The buses are made in Hungary, BYD’s first production facility for battery-powered cars in Europe, and will be delivered in early 2025.

Previously, De Lijn, which urgently needed to green its fleet, awarded orders to Flemish bus builders VDL (24 buses) and Van Hool (36), among others, but also to Italian Iveco (109). For future orders of standard e-buses, De Lijn retains the option to order on this new framework agreement and the previous one.

Van Hool in crisis

De Lijn has come under heavy fire from several parties because of the order. According to the Gazet van Antwerpen, the unions at bus builder Van Hool from Koningshooikt near Lier, for example, are anything but set up with the decision, even though it produces some of its e-buses in Macedonia.

Van Hool did win a previous tender from De Lijn for the delivery of 36 e-buses, and De Lijn might order another 98 more from them. However, the company has been losing since 2019, although it recently won a public tender for 115 e-buses for Dutch transport company Qbuzz.

“An organization working with taxpayers’ money must also consider jobs in its own country,” Hans Vaneerdewegh, secretary of the socialist trade union ABVV, told the newspaper. “If jobs disappear at Van Hool due to the loss of government contracts, more people will become unemployed, and that will cost the taxpayer extra money.”

The same criticism can be found with China expert Jonathan Holslag. “Cheap is often expensive in the long run,” he says on the site vrt.news, pointing out that BYD is a company that used to be heavily subsidized by the Chinese government, resulting in distortion of competition.

Not without flaws

BYD (Build Your Dreams), is not beyond reproach when it comes to buses. For instance, significant defects have been reported in the Netherlands with BYD’s buses, which operate there after a fraudulent tender.

Drivers complain of wrist, back, neck, and elbow pain caused by malfunctioning steering and misplaced seats. According to De Lijn, the buses ordered are an improved version of the model in the Netherlands, dixit vrt.news.

BYD is considered the world’s biggest bus manufacturer, but it is also China’s dominant automaker – it sold three million NEVs (electrified cars) in 2023, a record high. Although it sells most of its cars in China, it is expanding globally, particularly in Europe.

For example, some 2 500 e-buses were delivered in Europe in the first half of 2023, accounting for 25% of the European market. BYD scores points not only for its low cost but also for its fast delivery times.

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