Business / Corporate

India's slowdown emerges as new headache for Japan automakers

Outlook for world's No. 4 market murky as car loans dive in wake of credit crunch

by Takuya Okamoto

Kyodo

While the U.S.-China trade dispute, uncertainties about the global auto market and rising costs for developing cleaner cars are common concerns for automakers, the slowdown in India’s market has emerged as a new headache.

The slowing Indian economy has taken a heavy toll on Suzuki Motor Corp., which has a strong foothold in the world’s fourth-largest auto market through subsidiary Maruti Suzuki India Ltd.

Suzuki’s group net profit in the six months to September tumbled 41.8 percent from a year earlier to ¥79.30 billion ($730 million), with sales in India dropping 26.5 percent to 675,000 units.

“It is difficult to say whether it will pick up” in the near future, Suzuki President Toshihiro Suzuki said at a news conference earlier this month.

Car sales there fell for 11 months straight through September before rising a slight 0.3 percent to 285,027 units in October, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers said.

Honda Motor Co. also took a hit during the period, with sales of both cars and motorcycles falling due to credit tightening in the country and floods in its southwest, where Japan’s third-largest automaker by volume has a large share of the motorcycle market.

Honda’s six-month group net profit fell 19.0 percent from a year earlier, prompting it to lower its full-year earnings guidance. Honda’s motorcycle sales in India fell 18.7 percent in the period to 2.68 million units from a year earlier.

“The Indian auto and motorcycle markets are slowing due to a tightening of consumer credit while the country’s economic outlook remains unclear,” Honda Executive Vice President Seiji Kuraishi told reporters.

Toshihide Kinoshita, a senior analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc., said the credit crunch caused by last year’s defaults at Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services dealt a heavy blow to India’s car loan system.

He said about 30 percent or 40 percent of car buyers in India rely on loans.

“It was inevitable that the Indian auto market would dent the Japanese automakers’ bottom lines,” Kinoshita said.

The trouble in India added to the impact caused by foreign exchange rates as the yen turned stronger than most Japanese firms expected in the first half.

Toyota Motor Corp., which has the largest global presence, reported a record first-half profit.

Toyota’s net profit rose 2.6 percent to ¥1.27 trillion as sales grew 4.2 percent to ¥15.29 trillion thanks to new models added to its lineup, including the RAV4 sport utility vehicle and the Corolla sedan, as well as continued cost cuts.

Toyota fine-tuned the group’s global vehicle sales forecast to 10.70 million units from the previously estimated 10.73 million, but maintained its net profit outlook at ¥2.14 trillion, up 14.2 percent.

“Toyota’s earnings result can be praised amid a slowing global auto market,” said SMBC Nikko’s Kinoshita, attributing the company’s solid performance to its focus on maintaining market share while keeping up efforts to lower costs.

In stark contrast, Nissan Motor Co., which is struggling to revive its business by shifting away from the expansionary strategy pursued by ousted former boss Carlos Ghosn, saw net profit fall 73.5 percent in the April-September half and lowered its profit outlook for the full year to its lowest in 10 years.

Koichi Sugimoto, a senior analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co., said Nissan needs to introduce new models to the market as soon as possible to compete with the expanding lineups of its rivals.

“I would like to see how Nissan’s new management (from December) establishes its new strategy to recover sales especially in the U.S. and Chinese markets,” he said.