Slow Sales for Buffet-Backed Chinese Plug-In Hybrids

Chinese battery and car maker BYD (1211.HK), backed by U.S. billionaire Warren Buffet, said it has raised its 2010 sales target, as it prepares to roll out its first electric cars.

BYD, 10 percent owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa.N), aims to sell 800,000 vehicles next year, up from a previous target of 700,000 units, said Paul Lin, manager of the company's marketing department.

He attributed the revision to robust demand from Chinese consumers following Beijing's 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) economic stimulus plan, which includes several measures specifically aimed at boosting car sales.

"The company already reached its 2009 target of 400,000 vehicles in November, so now we are setting our 2010 target to double that number at 800,000 units," Lin said, adding that this year's final sales should come in at around 440,000 units.

BYD's F3 sedan was the best-selling car in China in the first 11 months of this year, leading other popular domestic and foreign models, such as, Hyundai Motor's (005380.KS) new Elantra and Chery Automobile's QQ, official data showed.

To help meet market demand, BYD's new bus plant in the central Chinese city of Changsha and a car plant in the northwestern city of Xian will start operation next year, adding up to 700,000 units of capacity, Lin said.

Henry Li, general manager of BYD Auto's export arm, told Reuters in July that the firm aims to be a major global player by 2025, with vehicle sales of 8-9 million. [ID:nHKG366761]

BYD, which had sold several hundred of its plug-in hybrid, F3DM, unveiled in December of 2008, plans to start selling its first electric car, the e6, in China in the first quarter of 2010, Lin said.

The e6 had passed government safety inspections in the country and received other necessary permits, he said, adding the firm remained committed to export the model to the United States next year.

BYD's shares, traded in Hong Kong, have surged more than 422 percent since the beginning of this year, leading a roughly 49 percent gain in the broader market .HSI and bolstering its founder, Wang Chuanfu, to the top of Forbes 2009 list of China's wealthiest.