Commentary: Elon Musk Pushes Tesla Towards BYD’s Playbook

(BRK.A), (BRK.B)

News that Elon Musk wants Tesla to acquire green energy company SolarCity for $2.7 billion in stock was not exactly well received by Tesla investors, with Tesla stock swooning on the announcement. Some accused it of being a bailout of Musk’s SolarCity, which has a need to borrow heavily to fund its rooftop solar panel business.

However, Musk cited the synergies between the companies, which both exploit the move away from fossil fuels.

Whatever you might think of the deal, the one thing worth noting is it would bring Musk’s two companies squarely in line with Chinese vehicle and battery maker BYD Co. Ltd.

BYD is 9% owned by Berkshire Hathaway, and Berkshire has seen the value of its investment skyrocket as BYD becomes a world leader in the same areas that Musk is pursuing.

What are those areas?

BYD is number one globally in EV vehicles. The company vaulted to the number one spot in 2015 from only being number ranked seventh a year earlier.

BYD is the number one maker of rechargeable batteries, and like Tesla even has rechargeable battery home storage already on the market.

BYD is number one in pure electric buses that come in a variety of sizes. From commuter buses to buses for long distance travel, BYD has been quietly conquering the world, and frankly right now has no major competitors. In April 2016, BYD achieved a major milestone, the production of its 10,000th pure electric bus.

BYD’s also rapidly growing a host of other products that include LED lighting, photovoltaic panels for solar farms, and other electric vehicles such as forklifts.

As for solar panels, in the U.S., BYD’s already has a total 109MW using its 270,000 PV modules being developed in California. It also has other projects using its modules, including a 65MW plant in Utah, and a 28MW plant in Arizona.

Perhaps you haven’t heard of BYD, but they are no fly-by-night company. BYD has nearly 180,000 employees working in 22 industrial parks across the globe.

BYD and Berkshire Hathaway

In 2008, Berkshire Hathaway bet on BYD’s potential, purchasing 225 million shares, and today owns roughly 9.1% of the company.

It’s an investment that has paid off handsomely. Berkshire’s original investment of $230 million is now worth roughly $1.77 billion.

Unlike Tesla and SolarCity, BYD is profitable, and it has become profitable using a playbook that is an even bigger version of what Musk is hoping for with his proposed merger.

I don’t know if that playbook will work for Tesla and SolarCity, but it sure seems to be working for BYD.

For More on BYD, read the Special Report: BYD, Berkshire’s Tesla.

© 2016 David Mazor

Disclosure: David Mazor is a freelance writer focusing on Berkshire Hathaway. The author is long in Berkshire Hathaway, and this article is not a recommendation on whether to buy or sell the stock. The information contained in this article should not be construed as personalized or individualized investment advice. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.