Explaining Southern California's economy

If BYD is in trouble in China, what does that mean for its HQ in Los Angeles?

BYD-DowntownLA-MDB

Matthew DeBord

BYD — it stands for "Build Your Dreams" — built a future in Downtown L.A., home to its North American HQ. Unfortunately, it's enduring something of a nightmare with its business at home in China, even with billionaire Warren Buffett invested.

BYD is a Chinese company that has one big thing going for it: It counts Warren Buffett as an investor. But beyond that, the carmaker/batterymaker/solar manufacturer has been enduring a rough ride. It's seen a massive decline in earnings this year, while Buffett has seen his 10 percent stake, purchased in 2008, fall to substantially less than its 2010 peak value of $1.2 billion. BYD (it stands for "Build Your Dreams") executives have been heading for the exits.

There are some complex, interpersonal, inside-Berkshire Hathaway questions about how Buffett and his longtime partner, Charles Munger, came to be involved with BYD. But there's no question about how Los Angeles came to be home to BYD's North American headquarters, opened Downtown about a year ago, in a corridor that's jammed with auto dealerships.

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Head downtown to drive green cars in LA this weekend

Molly Peterson/KPCC

CODA Automotive, now based in West L.A., is among the manufacturers participating in this weekend's Green Car Ride & Drive and Dwell on Design in Downtown Los Angeles.

I spent a few hours yesterday morning at Dwell on Design at the L.A. Convention Center. Dwell on Design is a well-attended design show that's put on by Dwell magazine. What I was focused on was the Green Car Ride & Drive. I've driven quite a few cars — I used to write about the auto industry — but I've driven very few electric cars or hybrids.

So the Green Car Ride & Drive was pretty much can't miss for me. And it's definitely worth checking out. It runs through 4 p.m. today. Anyone who attends Dwell on Design can head out in front of the Convention Center and take one of numerous EVs, hybrids, and even hydrogen-powered rides for a spin.

I got behind the wheel of a Fisker Karma, one of the most expensive and luxurious hybrids on plant Earth — as well as a car created by a California company, Fisker Automotive. I also sampled the rather less expensive but no less impressive Coda all-electric car. And I finally got behind the wheel of a Chevy Volt.

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How Chinatown could keep Wal-Mart from expanding in California

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the U.S. It has its critics. It's expanding in California. And it want to bring a smaller store to L.A.'s Chinatown. But opposition is mounting.

One of the most famous movies ever made about Los Angeles is Roman Polanski's "Chinatown." In that 1974 film, starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, "Chinatown" is 1930s police shorthand for cynicism: a place where everything is so complex that it's better to do nothing.

Discount retailing giant Wal-Mart is currently going through it's own Chinatown moment. Today, a protest by labor leaders and U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu will take place in the neighborhood. The reason? Wal-Mart wants to bring in a Neighborhood Market — a smaller-box concept that the big-box retailer introduced in the late 1990s and has established as a middle tier, between its well-known Super Centers and it's recently developed Express Stores.

You might think of Wal-Mart as a place where you can buy everything from snow tires to computers to very large quantities of frozen everything, but that's not what the pretty unimaginatively named Neighborhood Market is all about. A good analogy in the SoCal grocery space would be British retailer Tesco's Fresh & Easy stores, which offer a broad variety of everyday goods in a no-nonsense, relatively discounted shopping environment where customers handle their own checkout and bagging.

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