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 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: @jill_shen_sh

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