Auto chief says sector needs sense of crisis

by Hiroko Nakata

Japanese automakers need a sense of crisis to compete with their increasingly active Chinese counterparts, the chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association said Wednesday.

“What I noticed in Guangzhou is that Chinese new automakers are increasingly improving their quality,” Toshiyuki Shiga said a day after returning from the Eighth China International Automobile Exhibition in Guangzhou.

“We need to cope with it with a sense of crisis that we might fail if we stick to our past (of selling high-quality cars),” he added.

Shiga, chief operating officer of Nissan Motor Co., said Japanese automakers face a turning point as their focus shifts to emerging markets.

The Chinese auto market, now the world’s largest, is widely expected to grow to 18 million vehicles this year and reach 20 million next year, with more than 100 new local carmakers in fierce competition.

Shiga said he expects the U.S. market to rise slightly to 13 million units in 2011, from around 12 million this year.

His comments followed JAMA’s announcement Dec. 17 that 4.47 million cars will be sold in Japan next year, down 9.9 percent due to uncertainty over the economy and weakened demand after a government subsidy program for fuel-efficient cars ended in September.

Sales are expected to rise 7.5 percent to 4.96 million units this year on the back of a mild economic recovery and government incentives and subsidies.