Tags: AS | China | Autos | BYD

Buffett-Backed BYD's Profit Soars on Strong Auto Sales

Monday, 15 Mar 2010 01:08 PM

BYD, the Chinese automaker with backing from billionaire Warren Buffett, says its net profit more than tripled last year as the company's F3 sedan topped the country's list of best-selling autos.

BYD is among several Chinese automakers whose fortunes have risen as sales took off last year, largely thanks to government tax cuts and subsidies aimed at boosting demand, especially for energy-efficient small vehicles.

BYD's net profit soared to 3.79 billion yuan ($555.5 million) in 2009, the automaker reported late Sunday, up from 1.02 billion yuan the year before.

Although the company did not report profits by segment, BYD said its 21 billion yuan ($3.06 billion) in revenues from its auto division last year accounted for 53 percent of its total sales, up from 32 percent in 2008.

BYD, which stands for Build Your Dreams, has the backing of billionaire investor Warren Buffett. His MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., the utility division of his Omaha, Neb.-based flagship Berkshire Hathaway, has a 9.9 percent stake in the Hong Kong-traded company.

BYD sold nearly 450,000 vehicles in 2009, up 170 percent from a year earlier — reaping gains from economies of scale. Of that total, about 290,000 were its popular F3 sedan, which topped monthly sales for much of the year.

Auto sales, including trucks and buses, jumped 45 percent last year to 13 million vehicles, making China the world's largest vehicle market. Sales for passenger cars rose 48 percent, while sales of small vehicles with engines of 1.6 liters or less jumped 70 percent.

Revenue from sales of batteries in 2009 fell to 4.3 billion yuan ($629 million) from 6.2 billion yuan the year before. Sales of mobile handsets rose 21 percent from a year earlier, to 14.6 billion yuan ($2.1 billion) from 12 billion yuan in 2008.

BYD has ambitious plans for growth, including major capacity expansions in China. The company plans to export up to one-tenth of the 800,000 vehicles it plans to make this year, up from less than 3 percent of its total sales last year.

The company is also considering a location for a U.S. headquarters to spearhead sales of an all-electric crossover vehicle, the e6, in the American market, as early as this year.

BYD started out as a battery maker and just switched to building cars in the past decade. In 2008, it became the first automaker to launch mass production of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle — the F3DM — that's sold in China and can be charged off a standard home outlet.

The company recently signed an agreement with Daimler AG to jointly develop electric vehicles for the fast-growing Chinese market.

Daimler said Monday the two companies envision a "comprehensive technology partnership" that would result in a vehicle specific to the Chinese market's requirements.

BYD acquired bus maker Hunan Midea Coach Manufacturing Co. last year, aiming to expand into bus and electric bus manufacturing. The company also has announced plans to build a new factory in the northern city of Xi'an with an annual capacity of 400,000 vehicles a year.

It is not alone is reaping a bonanza from surging demand.

Chongqing Changan Automobile Co., a partner of Ford Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp., reported last week that its net profit surged by more than 40-fold last year, to 1.08 billion yuan ($158 million dollars).

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