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UPDATE 1-Electric car maker BYD says profits up as becomes leading mask maker

(Adds background, details)

BEIJING, Aug 28 (Reuters) - BYD Co Ltd, a major electric vehicle maker in China, said on Friday it has become the world’s biggest mask maker, helping it to post a 14.3% rise in first-half profit on Friday, even as car sales fell because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

BYD, which started making masks early this year, shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak began, did not give details, but said it has become the world’s biggest mask maker. In May it said it can make 50 million masks a day.

The Shenzhen-based company, which is backed by U.S. investor Warren Buffett and whose products include battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, posted net profit of 1.66 billion yuan ($241.80 million), up from 1.45 billion yuan in the same period a year earlier, beating a Refinitiv Eikon analysts’ estimate of 1.63 billion yuan.

BYD sold 60,677 new energy vehicles (NEVs) between January and June, down 58% from a year earlier. It also sold 97,951 gasoline cars, up 19%. NEVs include battery-powered electric, plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

Revenue fell 2.7% to 60.5 billion yuan from 62.2 billion yuan a year earlier.

Car sales have been hard hit by the COVID-19 crisis and overall sales of NEVs in China, the world’s biggest auto market, dropped 37.4% in the first six months of this year from a year earlier.

China’s Association of Automobile Manufacturers expects NEV sales of 1.1 million vehicles this year, a drop of around 11% from last year.

BYD estimated 2.8 to 3 billion yuan profit in the first nine months this year, up 78% to 91% from the same period last year, as China’s overall auto sales recover.

$1 = 6.8652 Chinese yuan renminbi Reporting by Yilei Sun and Brenda Goh; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Barbara Lewis

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