Nissan Motor Co., the most successful Japanese automaker in China, expects sales in the world’s largest automobile market to rebound within three months as demand for Japanese-branded vehicles recovers.
“We’ve seen growth in retail year on year in March and year to date,” Andy Palmer, executive vice president of the Yokohama-based carmaker, said recently. “When we are seeing retail growing, we can be pretty sure that within three months we will see wholesale coming back to a position better than the previous year.”
Nissan sales in China, its largest market, fell 17 percent to 110,000 units last month and declined 5.3 percent in 2012, as anti-Japan sentiment related to the Senkaku territorial dispute deterred consumers from buying Japanese cars.
Nissan is more affected than other Japanese automakers by a slump in China because it has the largest proportion of sales there among its peers, selling about 1 in 4 of its cars in the country.
Nissan reported monthly China sales results based on wholesale, or sales to dealers, which have “no longer than 60 to 100 days” difference to retail sales due to the stock issues, according to Palmer.
Nissan shares have gained about 7 percent this year compared with the 17 percent advance in the Nikkei 225 stock average.
Chinese consumers have shunned Japanese products since tensions flared in September over the disputed islets. Nissan sales slumped by more than 30 percent in the October-December quarter in China.
The rise in retail sales allows Palmer to be more bullish than Nissan Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn, who has warned the territorial dispute may lead it to rethink its future investment plans in China.
“It doesn’t affect our strategy going forward at all,” Palmer said. “Obviously we’ve continued to invest.”
The company introduced its Teana sedan on Feb. 26 and is counting on the car to revive sales in China. Palmer said the fall in March wholesale figures was due to the transition to the new Teana from the old model.
The carmaker will showcase a new concept car, Friend Me, at the Shanghai auto show starting April 20.
Palmer said it will be a hybrid car “dedicated to the youth of China.”
“You can go on social media in the car,” he said.
“The way that Chinese youth are using that media is some of the surprise we will show you at Shanghai.”
Nissan, which plans to introduce 15 hybrids by 2016 as sales of the electric Leaf lagged behind forecasts last year, will sell a hybrid version of the Altima sedan in the U.S., Palmer said.
The introduction of more hybrid cars doesn’t mean Nissan is abandoning electric vehicles.
“We are absolutely religious about leading in zero emissions,” he said.
“Renault and Nissan invested $5 billion in electric vehicles, and this is not something that we are going away from.”
On exchange rates, Palmer reiterated that he sees ¥100 versus the dollar as “neutral territory.” Nissan gains about ¥20 billion in operating profit with every ¥1 drop against the dollar, according to the company.
“I would still say there’s small headwind which we would like to see the new government . . . overcome,” he said. “We’d like to see the yen at about 100.”
The yen has weakened about 15 percent over the past six months.
Sales of imported autos climbed 8.9% in ’12
Domestic sales of new imported vehicles, including those made abroad by Japanese automakers, rose 8.9 percent in fiscal 2012, thanks to solid demand for fuel-efficient foreign-brand vehicles and increased overseas output of Japanese brands, an industry body said Thursday.
Sales came to 321,292 units, setting an all-time high of 9.9 percent of the Japanese market excluding minivehicles, an official at the Japan Automobile Importers Association said.
Of the total, sales of foreign cars, trucks and buses rose 10.0 percent to 245,679 units, while sales of Japanese-brand vehicles climbed 5.2 percent to 75,613 units, pushed by Nissan Motor Co.’s March and Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s Mirage — compacts made in Thailand, the association said.
By brand, Volkswagen retained the top spot, selling 57,626 units for a market share of 17.9 percent, while Mercedes-Benz took second, selling 42,838 units for a share of 13.3 percent, followed by BMW, which sold 41,635 units to take a share of 13.0 percent.
In March alone, sales of new imported Japanese-brand vehicles rose 3.7 percent to 10,059 units, hitting a 17-year high, as buyers took advantage of the strong yen.
Total sales, including foreign models, climbed 5.6 percent to 43,804 units.