BEIJING, March 24 (Reuters) - BYD Co Ltd , a Chinese carmaker backed by U.S. billionaire Warren Buffett, said new and upgraded models were winning back buyers and would boost first-quarter profit after a plunge in 2012 earnings.
The company said on Sunday prospects for 2013 were improving as models including the Suri compact car and S6 SUV, which hit the showroom in the second half of 2012, won back some of its lost customers.
In a stock exchange filing, BYD said it expected to book between 100-140 million yuan ($16.10-22.54 million) net income in January-March, up sharply from 27 million yuan a year earlier, thanks largely to rising car sales.
Last year, its net profit plunged 94 percent to 81.4 million yuan from 1.4 billion yuan a year earlier, in line with its preliminary results announced in late February, it said.
BYD sold 456,056 cars in 2012, up just 1.7 percent from a year earlier, lagging rivals Great Wall Motor Co and Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd, which posted increases of 28 percent and 15 percent respectively.
BYD's slowing cell phone assembly business and loss-making solar panel division also weighed on its bottom line in 2012, it added in a statement.
BYD's Hong Kong-listed shares closed at HK$24.9 on Friday, up 1.4 percent ahead of the release of its annual earnings, outperforming a 0.5 percent dip in the Hang Seng Index.
BYD's electric car e6 joined Shenzhen's taxi fleet in 2010 as part of a pilot project initiated by China to put 5 million plug-in hybrids and electric cars on the road by 2020.
Forty-five of its e6 cars will join Hong Kong cab fleet around May, following in the footsteps in Shenzhen, the company said last week.
BYD has already built three charging stations in Hong Kong and more will be in place before the delivery of its e-cabs, it said.
Electric cars, however, are still a rarity in Chinese cities due to the lack of charging facilities and high battery cost.
A BYD e6 taxi caught fire in a fatal accident in May last year. A probe showed the lithium-ion phosphate battery that powers the car was not the cause of the fire and it was due to the high-speed collision, the company said.
($1 = 6.2122 Chinese yuan) (Reporting by Fang Yan in BEIJING and Kazunori Takada in SHANGHAI; Editing by Mark Potter)