The release of Berkshire Hathaway’s 2020 earnings report earlier this month shed light on how “one of Buffett’s boldest bets to date” —on Chinese automaker BYD” — is “paying huge dividends.” This according to an article in Fortune.
The article reports that thirteen years ago, “on the advice of his famously skeptical lieutenant, Charlie Munger,” Buffett invested $232 million (a 10% stake) in the then unknown company. Munger described BYD’s founder Wang Chuanfu— a chemist-turned-entrepreneur who had built one of the world’s largest manufacturers of rechargeable cell phone batteries before entering the automotive sector— as a “combination of Thomas Edison and Jack Welch.” Berkshire’s stake is now valued at roughly $5.9 billion as of the end of 2020 according to Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders.
Chuanfu established a foothold in the then-fledgling electric vehicle market by reportedly “parlaying BYD’s rechargeable battery technology into a fast-growing car making operation” by building longer-lasting batteries and cheaper cars than either U.S. or Japanese manufacturers were able to at the time. “In BYD,” the article notes, “Buffett and Munger believed they had found a company with a shot at one day becoming the largest player in a global automobile market that was inevitably going electric.”
In 2008, Buffett told Fortune that he had originally wanted to purchase a 25% stake, but Chuanfu refused to release more than 10%. According to Buffett, ““This was a man who didn’t want to sell his company,” adding, “That was a good sign.”
The investment has proved to be “money well spent,” the article reports, noting that as the electric vehicle market has “exploded” in China, BYD has emerged as a major player, selling more than 130,000 electric passenger vehicles last year “as it competes for market share with rival EV makers like Wuling, NIO, and, of course, Tesla.”