The Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA), a transit agency serving more than 450,000 residents in the cities of Palmdale, Lancaster and Northern Los Angeles County in California, announced Thursday it will

become the nation's first 100 percent electric public transit fleet, following a new deal with Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD.

The AVTA board of directors on Thursday morning voted unanimously for BYD a contract to manufacture up to 85 electric buses at its manufacturing facility in Lancaster, California, by 2018.

Calling the deal a "success to change the world as far as going from diesel to electric," Marvin Christ, chairman of the AVTA board, told China Daily by phone, "We are showing the world that we can do it not only economically but we can do it while cleaning the environment."

The agency has authorized $72,421,000 over the period of three years and expects to take delivery of 29 electric buses within the next 12 months. It is working to secure additional grant funding from the Air Resources Board to purchase an additional 17 buses.

Under the order, Los Angeles-based BYD Motors will build and deliver a variety of all-electric bus models including a 40-foot low floor transit bus, a 60-foot low floor articulated bus, and a 45-foot commuter coach.

All the 85 buses will have a range of more than 160 miles on a single battery charge.

AVTA is also installing a wireless charging system to extend the fleet's range to ensure the electric buses will be able to serve the agency's longest rural routes.

"In China last year we delivered more than 6,000 electric buses, but in the United States there aren't as many transit buses as there are in China. The market is much smaller," said Michael Austin, vice-president of BYD America. "But BYD is committed to the market. We opened a manufacturing plant for electric buses in Lancaster and began taking orders last year."

According to Austin, AVTA is "the first transit company in the US to completely convert to zero emissions electric bus. All the others are just partially testing electric buses."

"Pure-electric powered transportation is no longer in the future — it's here now," said Stella Li, president of BYD Motors. "I hope other transit agencies in California and across the country take note and follow the example AVTA has set today."

There are multiple benefits to electrifying the bus fleet, from creating jobs and eliminating harmful air pollutants, to reducing dependence on foreign oil, said Christ.

Aside from emissions reduction, noise pollution will be reduced by 50 percent as well. The transit agency also forecasts it will save more than $46 million compared with an all-diesel fleet, equivalent to $46,000 per bus per year in savings.

Many jobs also are expected to be created as a result of AVTA's order. "We have over 300 jobs in the city of Lancaster now. By the end of the year, it will be 500 and by 2018, we'll have over 1,000 jobs at BYD," said Christ.

Since the headquarters of BYD Motors was opened in Los Angeles in 2012, BYD has opened two more factories in Lancaster, one energy module factory for energy storage and a bus and coach manufacturing facility.