Major Japanese carmakers may have benefited from the yen’s sharp decline this year, but they were also hurt by the consumption tax hike and prospects for the domestic market appear dim, Fumihiko Ike, chief of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said Monday.
“2014 has been a complicated year . . . the superstrong yen that had affected (automakers’ bottom lines) has rapidly weakened, which is definitely a plus,” Ike said during an interview with media outlets at JAMA’s headquarters.
Before the sales tax was raised to 8 percent from 5 percent in April, the domestic market saw a last-minute surge, but overall the car industry has been hit hard by the hike.
For five straight months since July, the number of new cars sold has been down compared with the same month last year.
“We thought (the sales momentum) would come back after the summer, but it’s not coming back at all,” said Ike, who is also the chairman of Honda Motor Co.
Ike said it is still unclear whether the ruling coalition will pursue reforms next year regarding auto-related taxes, which pose a heavy burden on car owners. Any tax changes would affect sales projections, but “I personally think that this tough situation will continue,” he said.
He added that on top of the sales tax hike, the Abe administration is trying to achieve 2 percent inflation, but people’s salaries have not been keeping pace.
“I think those firms benefiting from the weak yen need to distribute (the money to their employees) to increase workers’ disposable income,” Ike said.
He also said that even though the yen has become weak, it is not a realistic option to close overseas plants and move production lines back to Japan.
But he said Japanese plants can ramp up production and increase exports, and automakers appear ready to do so.
Looking at auto markets around the world, Ike said North America showed steady growth in 2014 and the momentum will probably continue next year, but the outlook for Asia is less positive.
China may be better than other Asian markets, but its economy is slowing down, he warned.