Japanese carmakers target go-local sales drive
Japanese carmakers are aiming for a turnaround in sales this year as they introduce models tailor-made for Chinese consumers.
Mazda Motor, which suffered the heaviest fall in sales among the top four Japanese carmakers in China, said the new products could help push sales up 7 per cent this year.
Speaking at the Shanghai car show, where Mazda's latest made-in-China models were displayed, the carmaker's China chief, Noriaki Yamada, admitted the firm had been too slow to expand in the past, which put it in a vulnerable position when a dispute between Japan and China over islands in the East China Sea late last year sparked a nationwide boycott of Japanese goods.
"We will start [localising] three models - the CX-5, CX-7 and Atenza - from June. We will also upgrade their features on the local assembly line. We believe that will help boost sales," Yamada said.
The engine of the mainland version of Atenza, for example, will grow to 2,500cc from 2,000cc, and a crossover version will also be added to the CX-7 line.
Mazda, which is partnered with Chinese firm Changan Automobile, was the last Japanese carmaker to go local in China. But the company now plans to introduce 10 models by 2015, by when it hopes to double sales to 400,000 units.
Mazda sold 187,087 cars in China last year - a drop of 13 per cent from 2011. Sales fell 21 per cent in this year's first quarter, less than the 33 per cent drop in the previous quarter.
Sales at Toyota Motor, Japan's biggest carmaker, slowed for the first time in a decade, by 4.9 per cent to 840,500 units, last year.
It is showcasing 52 models - its largest fleet on display ever in China's annual car show, which alternates between Beijing and Shanghai.
Among the models were two China-specific world premieres: of the Yundong Shuangqing II, a hybrid concept car, and the FT-HT Yuejia, a six-seater targeted at young mainland families.
Toyota's China head, Hiroji Onishi, said the firm did not expect sales to fully recover until the new models are released in September.
"Our original expectation was for sales to come back in half a year, but now our plan is to push harder after our product introductions in autumn," he said.
Masayoshi Sato, the group manager for sales and marketing in Toyota's China division, said the firm would seek to expand the market for hybrid cars on the mainland by producing its Prius models there to make them more affordable for drivers.
Nissan Motor's executive vice-president, Andy Palmer, said the firm was working to localise its luxury Infiniti brand and hoped to make it the fourth premium brand in China, after Audi, Mercedes and BMW.