Electric vehicle maker BYD said that it is now the world’s biggest mask producer and that its products were available to the Chinese public as of Monday, according to a company statement.

Why it matters: China’s largest EV maker, BYD is the first automaker permitted to supply face masks for retail sale by the Chinese government, which took over mask allocation during the outbreak.

  • The government temporarily banned new manufacturers from selling masks and strictly regulated public mask sales during the peak outbreak period which began in early February.
  • Making masks available for the public rather than to directly supply hospitals and other front-line facilities suggests that a severe shortage of medical supplies in China during the Covid-19 outbreak is easing.

Details: Warren Buffet-backed BYD on Sunday announced that it has partnered with six local supermarkets and pharmacy chains to sell a shipment of 15 million disposable masks starting Monday.

  • The supplies are only available in Shenzhen, where the company’s headquarters are located, and the six retailers will sell the masks for around RMB 2.5 ($0.35) each.
  • The EV maker—one of China’s biggest—on Friday said that it is the world’s biggest mask maker with more than 100 production lines boasting a daily output of 5 million masks, in addition to production capacity of 300,000 bottles of disinfectant per day.
  • The company started mass-producing masks in mid-February and has been ramping up production with a staff of more than 100 working 24 hours a day. It plans to expand capacity by nearly doubling the amount of production lines in the near term.
  • The company sells to the government at cost which allocates supplies to local chain stores, according to a company spokeswoman, who added that profits were not a priority for this project.
  • Meanwhile, export plans are on the agenda as China’s containment of the virus is improving, the company said. It will halt production completely after the outbreak.
  • Government officials including a deputy mayor attended the press conference on Sunday, according to an announcement released by BYD on its official Weibo account (in Chinese).

Context: BYD is one of a handful of Chinese automakers which responded to the government’s call for industrial manufacturers to manufacture protective equipment during the outbreak to help meet surging demand.

  • General Motors and its manufacturing partner SAIC have production capacity of 2 million masks per day in a Guangxi-based joint plant after starting production in early February.
  • GAC Group, southern China’s biggest automaker, on Monday said it has produced 10 million masks on more than 40 machines since Feb. 20
  • All the automakers have said that they only supply masks under the planning and management of local governments, rather than for direct sales to consumers.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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