Toyota Motor, the largest carmaker in the world, is trying to remake its image in China, where sales have tumbled because of a dispute over islands in the East China Sea.
A new slogan repositioning Toyota Motor China Investment as a China-rooted company rather than an offshoot of a Japanese company was unveiled at a gala dinner held by Toyota at the Guangzhou Auto Show last week.
"Call us China Toyota instead of Toyota China," Hiroji Onishi, senior managing officer of Toyota told mainland car dealers during the dinner. Putting the word "China" in front means China's Toyota in Chinese, while the reverse connotes Toyota's Chinese branch.
The wording change comes after the sales of Toyota and other Japanese carmakers tumbled more than 40 per cent after the Japanese government's decision in early September to "purchase" the disputed islands, which are known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Both countries claim ownership.
The dispute spurred riots in major mainland cities, targeting Japanese-related products ranging from restaurants to car plants. Since then, mainland buyers have been hesitant to buy Japanese cars for fear that they or their cars will be the target of the anti-Japanese sentiment.
"China is the world's largest market for car sales and production, Toyota cannot afford to lose it," said Vivien Chan, a car analyst at Oriental Patron Holdings, a Hong Kong financial services company. By 2015, Chan expects Toyota's China car sales to account for 15 per cent of total sales from less than 12 per cent now, she said.
"It means [Toyota's] car sales in China will grow to 1.35 million by 2015 from a 1 million target" this year, she said.
But because of poor sales, Toyota is likely to fall short of this year's target, having produced and sold just 686,000 cars in China in the first 10 months.
"We hope that the mainland consumer will perceive us as a mainland company," said Niu Yu, a spokesman for Toyota Motor China Investment. Toyota is also replacing more of its senior management in China with mainlanders and shifting some decision-making to China.