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BYD's electric buses are drive in Shenzhen (Photo: BYD)

China's BYD and Bulgaria's Bulmineral have established a joint venture to build electric buses in Europe.

The move will help BYD accelerate its plans to establish itself as a global EV brand.

It is the second major automotive investment by a Chinese company in Bulgaria. In February, a joint venture plant owned by carmaker Great Wall and Bulgaria's Litex Motors started operations in Bahovista, 150km west of Sofia.. The plant initially can build 2,000 cars a year, but that capacity could rise to 50,000 by 2014.

Like BYD, Great Wall also wants to expand in Europe and, given Bulgaria's membership of the European Union, a plant there can function as a springboard to meet that goal.

BYD and Bulmineral have formed a 50-50 owned company called Auto Group Motors, which will build  vehicles at a plant in Breznik, Bulgaria, about 50km west of Sofia. It is the first overseas electric vehicle joint venture for BYD.
For Bulmineral, a Bulgarian energy resources and equipment group, the cooperation marks an expansion of its business. "Today marks the beginning of a new stage in our activities by starting the manufacture and assembly of electric buses with BYD,” Bulmineral CEO Mihail Ivanov said in joint press release.

BYD, a large Chinese maker of electric vehicles and batteries, has been actively pursuing growth outside its domestic market. The Bulgarian joint venture "is a very important step for BYD and will ensure we are able to move forward with our strategy to introduce our electric vehicles and more green products across Europe," said Isbrand Ho, managing director of BYD Europe.

The new Bulgarian plant will build buses and electric cars, according to China's official Xinhua news agency. The first bus will be ready in Feburary, when the plant is fully operational. The factory will have a monthly capacity of between 40 and 60 buses, Xinhua said.

BYD builds a 12 meter-long electric bus that has a range of 250km on a single battery charge. The Chinese company  uses an iron-phosphate bettery that it developed by itself. BYD's buses are currently driven in the city of Shenzhen, where they have clocked up almost 12 million km.

BYD has sold its electric buses in several countries, including the Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Uruguay and the US.

It also announced this week that a fleet of all-electric taxis will be used in a pilot project in Colombia's capital, Bogota. The fleet of 5-passenger BYD e6 vehicles will be operational in early 2013.