/

Toyota predicts China sales won’t fully recover before fall

Bloomberg, Kyodo

Toyota Motor Corp. said it doesn’t expect sales in China to fully recover before autumn this year as antipathy lingers toward Japanese brands.

“Our original expectation was for sales to come back in half a year, but now our plan is to push harder after our new product introductions in the fall,” Hiroji Onishi, Toyota’s China head, told reporters in Shanghai Sunday. “We’ll be focusing more on inland areas and also the younger generation.”

Japan’s largest automaker is displaying 52 models at this year’s Shanghai auto show — including two China-specific world premieres — as it seeks to reverse its first annual sales decline in the country in at least a decade. The models include the Yundong Shuangqing II, a hybrid concept currently under development in Changshu, China, and the FT-HT Yuejia, a six-seater designed to appeal to young Chinese consumers.

“It’s important for Japanese carmakers to develop China-specific cars, or use more local designers to better tailor their cars to local taste,” said Lin Huaibin, a Shanghai-based analyst with IHS Automotive. “Japanese carmakers have traditionally put less emphasis on China, and that’s at the core of why their market share has declined.”

Sales of Japanese cars in China plunged late last year after tensions escalated over ownership of uninhabited islands known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. The dispute led Japan’s automakers, including Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co., to cut profit forecasts and reduce output in China.

Toyota sales in China fell 4.9 percent to 840,500 vehicles last year, the first annual drop based on company figures stretching back to 2002. The Toyota, Aichi Prefecture-based automaker in January pushed back plans to make China its third million-unit market, after the U.S. and Japan, until 2014 at the earliest as it waits for anti-Japan sentiment to subside and demand to improve. The maker of Camry sedans expects deliveries in the country to rise about 7 percent to 900,000 vehicles in 2013, it said at the time.

The automaker, which announced a new Lexus ES assembly line in the U.S. on Friday, is also considering producing the luxury model in China in the future, Onishi said Sunday.

“China’s sales of the Lexus are the biggest after the U.S.,” said Onishi, although he added that it will take some time to start production there because it needs to ensure a stable procurement of high-quality auto parts.

On Saturday, Nissan Motor Co. said it targets a 16 percent increase in sales at its China joint venture this year.

Deliveries under Nissan’s venture with Dongfeng Motor Co. may increase to 900,000 vehicles this year in China, where the company sells the most cars among Japanese carmakers, from 773,000 units in 2012, Kimiyasu Nakamura, Nissan’s China venture head, said Saturday.

Nissan said retail sales in China rose in March from a year earlier, making it the first of Japan’s top three to see a rebound in the world’s biggest automobile market.