SHANGHAI — Chinese car maker BYD, backed by US investment titan Warren Buffett, on Monday denied reports of mass layoffs but said a "reshuffle" was under way in its sales and management teams.
The China Business Journal, a Beijing-based business weekly, said BYD was considering cutting 7,000 staff in its auto division, citing unnamed employees who had attended an internal meeting.
BYD employs about 17,000 people, the state-run Global Times newspaper said.
"It is true we have been going through a reshuffle of our sales and management team. It involves optimisation of our staff, but there is no such large scale layoff," BYD spokesman Paul Lin told AFP.
Lin said the move included the transfer of more than 300 employees of its auto sales department to other units, representing "most" of the staff affected, but declined to say if there had been any layoffs.
BYD, in which Buffett owns a 10 percent stake, has been dogged by rumours of job cuts since August after it reported first-half net profit plunged 89 percent on-year due to a more than 23 percent drop in car sales.
But Lin said sales had since improved.
"Sales have been boosted and this will be reflected in the next financial results," he said.
He added sales were "brisk" for its sports utility vehicle, the S6, which was launched earlier this year at a price of 90,000-130,000 yuan ($14,000-20,300).
China's auto sector overtook the United States in 2009 to become the world's largest and last year sales rose more than 32 percent to a record 18.06 million units.
But the sector has since lost steam after Beijing phased out sales incentives such as tax breaks for small-engine vehicles, originally introduced to ward off the impact of the global financial crisis.
BYD, which makes both cars and batteries, had been focussing on the development of clean-energy vehicles, but the industry-wide slowdown has hit it hard, analysts say.
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