New products drive up sales in wake of Diaoyu fallout
The introduction of new products gave a jolt to sales of Japanese cars in April, reversing a trend of dismal figures in the first half, analysts said.
Sales have been hit hard by a backlash against Japanese products stemming from territorial disputes over the Diaoyu Islands that erupted last September.
In the first half of 2012, the picture was much brighter for Japanese brands, which held a 20 percent market share last July.
By February, their market share had dropped to 12.5 percent. But brands gained ground in March and saw their share rise to 15 percent.
According to Toyota, it sold 76,000 units in April, a decline of 6.5 percent from a year earlier but still better than the 11.7 percent year-on-year decrease seen in March.
Nissan sold 103,000 units, an increase of 2.7 percent year-on-year.
In March, sales declined 17 percent compared to the same period last year.
Mazda sold 12,000 units in the month, a decrease of 15.2 percent compared with last April, but still an improvement over the 25 percent year-on-year decrease in March.
Honda sold 60,596 units, a slight decline of 2.4 percent year-on-year. Its sales dropped by 6.6 percent in March.
Lin Huaibin, an auto analyst with the consultancy IHS Automotive, said the recovery was expected because several Japanese brands introduced new products during or around the time of Auto Shanghai last month.
For example, the new edition of the Teana, a popular mid-sized sedan, was added to Nissan's Chinese lineup this March and is now being sold together with its previous generations.
Du Fan, spokesman of Nissan's Chinese operations, told China Daily that he is satisfied with the company's April performance and noted that with introduction of the new Teana and the new Livina, a small hatchback, Nissan's sales are expected to gain momentum in the coming months.
Honda is hoping to achieve a jump in sales by introducing an unprecedented lineup tailor-made for the Chinese market through its two joint ventures at the Shanghai auto show.
Zhu Linjie, spokesman for Honda's Chinese operations, said the new lineup it released in May will help to drive sales.
Responding to demand
Some industry insiders said that the decline of Japanese brands predated the Diaoyu Islands disputes and has more to do with the failure of the brands' portfolios to adequately reflect market demands.
Feng Xingya, executive deputy general manager of Guangqi Toyota, said the joint venture's major products are the mid-sized sedan Camry and the Highlander SUV, whereas compact and small cars only account for some 10 percent of the lineup.
Sales of small and compact cars in the country have doubled in recent five years, making this segment one of the country's most lucrative. German brands have already gained a stable foothold.
To capture this segment, Guangqi Toyota premiered two small cars - the Vios and the new Yaris - at the recently concluded Shanghai auto show.
By 2015, sales of small and compact models will account for 40 percent of the company's total, Feng said. It will continue to introduce new mid-sized cars to the market in the near future.
But Zhu denied that poor sales were related to the lineup and contended that the main reason is the territorial disputes.
Zhu said he is confident that Honda's sales will continue to recover throughout the year's end as tensions over the issues ease. Lin with IHS said that the sales fluctuation will continue in a relatively long period because political elements will continue to affect attitudes toward Japanese vehicles in China.
He also said it is not likely that Japanese brands will regain their market share they held before the dispute.
"Actually, even without the disputes, we have had low expectations for the market share of Japanese brands in China, considering their product portfolios in the country."
He said now the automakers have realized the importance of adjusting the lineup and are bringing more top products to the country.
"So sales volume will continue to increase," he said.
According to local media reports, Toyota's target for this year is to breakthrough the 900,000-unit benchmark by increasing 7 percent of its sales. Nissan aims to reach 900,000 units by growing 16 percent. Honda projects it will increase sales by 25 percent to 750,000 units.
Statistics show that in April, there were no Japanese brands among the top 10 automakers by sales in China. (From China Daily)