„Itai!“ Or rather, „tong!“ Ouch, that hurts: Toyota boss Akio Toyoda bowed deeply to 300 reporters assembled in Beijing, and to 1.3b Chinese who could watch the drama live on national TV. Four times in one hour, Toyota’s chief “apologized to customers in China for the company’s quality problems and emphasized the significance of the nation’s fast-growing market to his company,” as Shanghai Daily has it. There must be nothing more painful for an upstanding Japanese captain of industry than to bow deeply in front of the Chinese. But as they say in China: „bú tòng bù qiáng.” No pain, no gain. Even more astonishing:
Toyoda flew straight to Beijing from the U.S., did not stop in Tokyo, not even to get a change of unscorched clothes after he had “faced a grilling last week in Washington DC by American lawmakers” as the fast learning Shanghai Daily writes,
“The Chinese market is very important, so I flew here in person in the hope my personal expression of an apology and explanation will give customers some relief,” Toyoda said in Beijing.
Toyota recalled a mere 75,522 RAV4 SUVs in China in late January – a drop in the bucket, seen in relationship to the 8.5 million vehicles Toyota had to pull worldwide since October.
Some of the press felt slighted, and asked Toyoda why so few vehicles were recalled in China and whether that meant Toyota was discriminating against Chinese customers. Toyoda answered, no worry, the other vehicles sold in this country did not use components that led to recalls.
Denying previous whispers that Toyota’s February sales might be down by 20 percent in China, the China Passenger Car Association now estimates that Toyota’s sales with two local joint-venture partners were up solidly in February from a year earlier. Preliminary numbers indicate that sales of the joint venture with Guangzhou Automobile Group climbed 50 percent to 17,500 units, while sales at the joint venture with FAW jumped 106 percent to 40,400 units. Exact data are expected in a few days. These early numbers point to a very strong February in China overall.
Masahiro Kato, president of Toyota China operations, said the worldwide ruckus is not causing a major drop in sales in China.
Toyota underperformed in the Chinese market, the world’s largest. Last year, Toyota sold 709,000 vehicles in China, up only 21 percent from 2008, while the overall Chinese auto market jumped 45 percent to 13.6 million units. For this year, Toyota maintains a cautious target of 800,000 units in China. In January, sales of Toyota vehicles in China grew 53 percent from the same month last year. Sales for all vehicles in China rocketed up 126 percent in January. Last year, Toyota sold 1.554 million units in the U.S.A. China is Toyota’s fastest-growing market, but also a market where it holds only 5 percent.
China’s national news service Xinhua beamed the picture of a contrite Akio Toyoda around the world, but refrained from making any disparaging remarks, even after Associated Press had complained that “China’s state-controlled media have made only muted comment on the recalls, in contrast to the blistering criticism Toyoda faced from American lawmakers.”