GUANGZHOU, CHINA – Japanese automakers vowed Thursday to expand their businesses in China despite slumping sales due to a boycott of Japanese products amid heightened tensions over the Senkaku Islands dispute.
“As we are now in a difficult situation, we would like to operate in China while showing deep respect and interest in the country,” Hiroji Onishi, a senior manager at Toyota Motor Corp. who oversees the carmaker’s China business, said during the media preview of the 10th China (Guangzhou) International Automobile Exhibition in Guangzhou, southern China.
Onishi said Toyota plans to launch 20 new vehicles in the next three years in China, the world’s largest auto market, and noted the firm wants to contribute to the growth of the country’s car industry through increased technological development, featuring new energy and energy-savings.
It is the first time for Japanese automakers to hold large-scale exhibits in China of their products, including the latest fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly models, since anti-Japan demonstrations erupted in the country in September.
The protests came in the wake of Japan’s effective nationalization of the Senkaku Islands, which are already under its control. China also claims the islets. During the demonstrations, protesters vandalized Japanese car dealerships and attacked Japanese cars on the streets. The ensuing boycott of Japanese products led to sharp falls in car sales.
Opening to the public Friday, the 10th China (Guangzhou) International Automobile Exhibition, also known as Auto Guangzhou, will run through Dec. 2 at China Import & Export Fair Complex. Organizers estimate more than 500,000 people will visit the site during the period.
Toyota has the biggest booth in terms of floor space compared with its past participation in the Guangzhou exhibition. Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. are demonstrating their commitment by operating booths on an equal scale to last year’s.
Showcasing eight fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly models that boast electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid technology, the Toyota booth features the Chinese debut of the Venza crossover sport utility vehicle slated for launch next year.
Mazda is unveiling for the Chinese market the CX-9 crossover SUV, scheduled to be launched next year, and the Takeri concept sedan.
Sales of Japanese cars in China fell 59.4 percent in October from a year earlier to 98,900 units, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.
It was the first time that single-month sales of Japanese cars in China have dropped below 100,000 units since 2009.
Accordingly, Japanese carmakers’ share of the Chinese market dropped from 20.2 percent in June, the top among foreign automakers, to 7.6 percent in October.
Despite the circumstances, Toyota said it expects demand for Japanese cars to soon return to levels before the protests erupted in September over a territorial dispute.
Retail sales at its Chinese joint venture, GAC Toyota Motor Co., have rebounded close to levels before the wave of anti-Japan sentiment, said Feng Xingya, executive vice president of the venture.
The automaker cut production to ease pressure on the dealerships and stockpile levels have “reduced dramatically” in the past two months, he said.
Toyota’s projection adds to evidence that Japanese automakers are becoming more confident the consumer backlash is fading in the world’s largest auto market. Nissan said this month its orders and dealership traffic in China had rebounded.
Toyota recalls pickups
Toyota is recalling about 150,000 Tacoma midsize pickups in the U.S. because the spare tires can fall from beneath the trucks, the company said Wednesday.
The recalled trucks from the 2001 to 2004 model years were sold or registered in 20 cold-weather states and Washington, D.C.
On the Tacomas, a plate used to hold the spare tire under the truck bed can rust after being exposed to road salt for a long time. In some cases, the plate can break and the tire can fall to the ground, Toyota said Wednesday in a statement. The plates weren’t treated properly against corrosion, the company said.
The problem has caused two minor accidents and no injuries, Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said. In each case a tire fell and struck a vehicle behind the pickups.
Dealers will inspect and may replace the plates at no cost to the owners. The company will start notifying owners by mail in December.