The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to major Japanese carmakers — a pillar of industry in the nation. But having bottomed out in April through June, they are bouncing back with rosier-than-expected figures, signaling that they are on the path to recovery.
With demand rebounding in crucial markets such as China and the United States, auto giants have revised up their full-year profit forecasts or trimmed losses as they reported business results for the first half of this business year, over the past week or so, while stressing that they would stay vigilant about the health crisis now re-emerging in a number of nations.
“The risk of widespread COVID-19 infection remains, but I think we can say that the first quarter (April to June) was the rock bottom,” said Seiji Sugiura, senior analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Institute.
Toyota Motor Corp. has more than doubled its full-year operating-profit forecast to ¥1.3 trillion from ¥500 billion.
Thanks to a surge in demand in U.S. and Chinese markets and cuts to operational costs, Japan’s biggest automaker actually delivered an operating profit of ¥506 billion in just the July to September period. In the same period last year, the firm saw an operating profit of ¥658.6 billion.
“It’s true that we worked hard during the six months,” said Toyota President Akio Toyoda during a news conference last week. “But really, we were able to deliver this result because of the efforts that we’ve continuously made since I became the president. We’ve gone through other hardships, such as the 2008 global financial crisis, the Great East Japan Earthquake and the super-strong yen.”
The Aichi-based automaker produced 841,915 vehicles in September, which was a record high for the month.
Still, Toyota has said the outlook is not entirely clear due to the COVID-19 crisis having forced some nations in Europe to implement further lockdowns.
Honda Motor Co. has also more than doubled its annual operating profit forecast, from ¥200 billion to ¥420 billion, and marked a record September global output of 472,696.
Subaru Corp.’s and Suzuki Motor Corp.’s global outputs for September hit record highs as well, and both companies are looking to somehow secure full-year operating and net profits.
Mazda Motor Corp. kept its forecast of ¥40 billion operating loss and ¥90 billion net loss, but said the pace of recovery had been faster than expected.
Nissan Motor Co., which has been struggling since the arrest of former chairman Carlos Ghosn two years ago, showed some sign of improvement, cutting its annual estimated operating loss this business year from a staggering ¥470 billion to ¥340 billion.
On top of streamlining fixed and operational costs, Nissan said it had made some progress in the U.S. market, which has been the primary source of its headache.
Under Ghosn’s leadership, Nissan tried to boost market share in the U.S. but spent too much on financial incentives for dealers, aiming to bolster consumer and fleet sales, which damaged its brand image and profitability.
Nissan said it had reduced incentives per unit by 5% and increased net revenue per unit by 3%.
“We will improve the quality of sales per vehicle and not pursue stretched unit sales goals that we won’t be able to achieve,” Nissan CEO Makoto Uchida said in a news conference on Thursday.
“As we've managed to show this momentum (for a recovery), it’s critical that we maintain it in the second half of the fiscal year.”
Uchida added that Nissan would strongly promote its 12 new models, including the Rogue sport utility vehicle — the firm’s best selling model in the U.S. market.
While troubled Nissan may have shown some sign of improvement, Sugiura of Tokai Tokyo Research Institute warned that it was still too early to judge whether the firm is really on a path to recovery.
Nissan managed to cut its losses in the second quarter mainly due to one-off factors rather than by maintaining steady car sales to consumers, said Sugiura, adding that the firm has not been able to roll out new vehicle models in a timely manner compared to other rivals, such as Toyota.
“I think the key point is how well Nissan’s new models will perform,” he said.
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