Academy Award winner and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio might schedule a few trips to China next year: He has just become a brand ambassador for Chinese electric-vehicle manufacturer BYD, headquartered in Shenzhen, in southeastern China’s Guangdong province.
“All over the world people are realizing that cars that run on fossil fuels are inefficient and a major threat to the planet,” DiCaprio said in a statement announcing the partnership, released on Friday by BYD.
The company said that DiCaprio will promote the company’s new-energy vehicles in China throughout 2017. Last year, DiCaprio already sought to promote electric vehicles in China by forming his own team for the Beijing edition of the FIA Formula E Championship, an electric-car race.
Leonardo DiCaprio shakes hands with Wang Chuanfu (left), the chairman of BYD Auto, after the actor was announced as the brand ambassador for BYD's new-energy cars, Dec. 16, 2016. From BYD’s official Weibo account
Electric cars are growing increasingly popular in China, which emits more greenhouse gases than any other nation but is also the world’s largest electric-vehicle market.
Outside of pollution-heavy industries like coal, fossil fuel-powered vehicles have been identified as one of the major sources of air pollution in China’s larger cities. Megacities like Shanghai have already banned most fossil fuel-based two-wheelers, and electric scooters are ubiquitous in the nation’s urban hubs.
The government is trying to encourage the use of electric vehicles by offering subsidies as high as 90,000 yuan ($13,000).
DiCaprio looks forward to playing a larger role in the movement. “I am very pleased to be joining an effort to increase the number of clean vehicles on the road in China and beyond,” he said.
The 42-year-old established the environmental organization Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation after his breakthrough movie, “Titanic,” and recently released the documentary “Before the Flood,” in which he explores the impact of climate change and hears from activists trying to make a difference.
Although DiCaprio has been criticized for flying private jets, in 2011 he reportedly bought a Tesla Roadster, an electric sports car that has been dubbed the “tree hugger’s Ferrari” and is one of BYD Auto’s main competitors in the international market.
Between January and October this year, BYD sold more than 84,000 units, making it the world’s leading manufacturer of electric cars, followed by Tesla with just under 58,000, according to data analyzed by the website EV Sales.
In China, however, BYD has little to fear from the American brand, as more than 98 percent of electric vehicles on China’s streets are produced by domestic companies.
Recently, the industry has come under increasing pressure as the government imposes new technology standards on the more than 200 domestic electric-vehicle manufacturers.
For the first 10 months of this year, 337,000 new-energy vehicles were sold in China, signifying a year-on-year increase of 82.2 percent, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.
(Header image: An exterior view of a BYD Auto electric taxi in Bogota, Colombia, Sept. 2, 2013. A fleet of 50 new electric cabs, including BYD cars imported from China, took to the streets as part of Bogota’s strategy to reduce gas emissions. Leonardo Munoz/IC)