Japanese auto officials lobby Vietnam deputy on import restrictions

Representatives of Japanese automakers asked Vietnamese Vice Premier Vu Khoan on Friday to lift Hanoi’s restrictions on imported motorcycle parts, which has caused Honda Motor Co. to halt local production.

The representatives of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association who met Khoan included JAMA Chairman Yoshihide Munekuni, who is also Honda chairman, and executives of Yamaha Motor Co. and Suzuki Motor Corp., which also operate in Vietnam.

Munekuni called on Khoan to immediately lift the restrictions, which were abruptly announced by the Vietnamese government Sept. 4, according to the Japanese automakers.

Khoan was quoted as saying he will try to resolve the problem.

The import curbs were reportedly imposed as part of Vietnam’s plans to nurture its domestic parts industry, but on Sept. 27 Khoan told a news conference in Hanoi the government imposed the restrictions because of soaring road deaths involving two-wheelers.

“A hundred thousand people were killed in traffic accidents last year, and 72 percent of them were victims of motorcycle accidents,” Khoan said.

But the measure, in effect limiting this year’s motorcycle output to 1.5 million vehicles, has thrown production plans into chaos.

Honda’s local assembly plant has been forced to halt its production line and Yamaha is expected to take the same step later this month.

Khoan did not say anything about when Honda’s local plant can resume operations, JAMA officials said.

The issue was also addressed when trade minister Takeo Hiranuma met with Vo Hong Phuc, Vietnam’s planning and investment minister.

Both Phuc and Khoan are visiting Japan with Nong Duc Manh, chief of the Vietnamese Communist Party.

During their 30-minute meeting at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Hiranuma was quoted as telling Phuc the import restrictions will provoke anxiety among Japanese businesses over the country’s investment environment.

Phuc responded by saying the measure is aimed at regulating used motorcycles that do not meet Vietnam’s technical standards, according to METI officials.

The Vietnamese government is currently investigating the situation at plants operated by the three firms and is going to solve the problem, Phuc said during the meeting.

During a meeting with Manh on Thursday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also called on Hanoi to improve its investment environment to make it easier for Japanese companies to operate in the country.

Imported car sales up

Sales of imported motor vehicles rose 11.3 percent in September from a year earlier to 29,829 units, up for the second straight month, the Japan Automobile Importers Association said Friday.

Cumulative sales from January to September came to 208,812 units, little changed from the 208,724 during the same period last year, the association said.

The figures include sales of vehicles Japanese automakers produced overseas for the domestic market.

In September, sales of vehicles produced by foreign automakers rose 8.5 percent to 27,678 units, while sales of vehicles made overseas by Japanese automakers jumped 65.8 percent to 2,151 units, the association said.

German vehicles took the top three positions in import sales in September. Mercedes-Benz had the biggest market share, at 23.57 percent on sales of 7,032 vehicles, up 28.7 percent from a year earlier.

Volkswagen came second with a 16.45 percent market share on sales of 4,908 vehicles, down 6.2 percent.

In third place was BMW, with a 14.52 percent share on sales of 4,332 vehicles, up 7.3 percent, followed by French automaker Peugeot, with a 6.19 percent share on sales of 1,845 vehicles, up 56.4 percent. Volvo was close behind, with a 6.13 percent market share on sales of 1,828 vehicles, up 9.5 percent.

Fit sells best again

Honda Motor Co.’s Fit compact car remained the best-selling car in Japan for the sixth consecutive month in September, with sales of 24,067 units, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association said Friday.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s Corolla retained second place with sales of 18,490 units, followed by Toyota’s ist compact with 17,424 and Nissan Motor Co.’s March compact with 15,701.

Toyota’s Noah minivan came in fifth with sales of 8,641 units, followed by Toyota’s Alphard minivan with 8,583, Toyota’s Estima minivan with 7,738, and Mazda Motor Corp.’s Demio compact car with 7,700.

In ninth place was Honda’s StepWGN minivan, with sales of 7,261, followed by Toyota’s Vitz compact car with 7,022, returning to the top 10 from last month’s fall to 11th place.

Honda’s Fit was also the top-selling car in Japan in the first half of this business year, which ended Sept. 30, the association said.

Fit sales came to 127,023 units, followed by the Corolla with 100,725 units and the March with 86,338.

The Corolla has been the best-selling car for 33 years on an annual basis, but the Fit may steal the top spot for the 2002 selling period, which ends next March 31.