Chinese carmaker named wealthiest person in China

BYD logo.jpg

In Brief: A financial publication in China has released its annual list of the country's wealthiest billionaires, putting the CEO of a car manufacturer at the very top.

The Word

With a wealth estimated at $5.1 billion, BYD founder and CEO Wang Chuanfu is the richest person in China, according to the Hurun Report, which annually publishes the list 1,000-name long list (in order to qualify for the list, the person's estimated wealth must be at least 1 billion yuan, or approximately $147 million).

From one year to the next, this list is proving to be wildly volatile and unpredictable. Seven of the ten top ten names from 2008's list fell way down on this year's list after running into enormous financial or legal problems. For example, last year's number one, Huang Guangyu, had to resign from his holding company following allegations of stock market manipulation and will soon be sentenced to time in prison, and Wu Mart founder Zhang Wenzhong is in a Chinese prison serving an 18 year stretch for fraud and embezzlement. Some believe this is not a coincidence.

Chuanfu meanwhile, just 43 years old, had not been wealthy enough to land among the top 100 places of last year's list, and here he is in 2009, at number one.

According to the Hurun Report's Rupert Hoogewerf, Chuanfu's rise had a lot to do with Warren Buffet's decision to invest in BYD. "Buffett put his Midas touch on BYD and bought some stock," Hoogewerf tells the Voice of America. "And Mr. Wang Chuanfu's stock prices have gone up almost 600 percent since then."

And so …

BYD made automotive history in late 2008 when their BYD F3DM sedan became the first mass production plug-in hybrid electric vehicle ever to reach the market.

By Ross Bonander

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