But Wang remains a person of interest for the auto industry, for both his global view of auto sales and his speed of business.
BYD became the first company to produce electrified vehicles in China in 2008 when it launched a plug-in hybrid. Its first EV model, the e6 compact multi-purpose vehicle, arrived just two years later.
Over the next decade, it still had to rely largely on gasoline cars for sales, but BYD consistently expanded its lineup of electrified vehicles by creating plug-in hybrid and EV variants of its gasoline models.
In 2021, its electrified vehicles not only outsold its gasoline cars for the first time but became the main driver of its sales growth. And last year, the company phased out production of gasoline cars to focus on producing EV and plug-in hybrid models.
BYD sold 911,140 full electric vehicles last year, an increase of 184 percent, and 946,239 plug-in hybrids, a jump of 247 percent. For the first quarter of 2023, its sales of electrified vehicles were up 93 percent.
Five years ago, Warren Buffett told CNBC that he would like to take credit for the idea of investing in BYD, but it was his longtime partner and vice chairman, Charlie Munger, who pushed him to do so. Munger himself told analysts his bet for BYD was based on a single person: Wang Chuanfu.
According to Munger and BYD’s filings on the Hong Kong stock exchange, Wang was raised by his siblings, who paid for him to go to college and get an education in metallurgy. He established BYD in Shenzhen, China, to develop rechargeable batteries after briefly running a battery development unit for a state-owned metallurgy research institute in Beijing. Within three years, BYD had become one of the world’s largest rechargeable battery suppliers.
In 2003, the battery company started to make mobile phone components. And just two years later, the company launched sales of its first vehicle, a compact gasoline sedan called the F3. Two years after that, the F3 would become the top-selling model produced by a domestic Chinese carmaker.
Munger, who is also chairman of the California newspaper company, Daily Journal Corp., said at his 2009 annual meeting that he was amazed by Wang’s ability to build BYD from ground zero into a major global supplier of rechargeable batteries and mobile phone components in rapid succession.
“And then, finally, not satisfied with having worked a couple of miracles, Wang Chuanfu decided he would go into the automobile business. As nearly as I can tell, it was zero experience in automobiles. And from a standing start at zero and with very little capital, he rapidly was able to create the best-selling single model in China,” he told his audience.
“This is not some unproven, highly speculative activity,” he added. “What it is, is a damn miracle.”