The booths of Japanese automakers were mobbed today just like those of any other automaker at the Shanghai Motor Show. The action at the showrooms are a different matter. Sales of Japanese cars in China remain problematic more than half a year after rowdy crowds took to the streets last September to torch Japanese cars and showrooms. Sales of Japanese cars in China were down 14.3 percent in March while sales of U.S. carmakers were up 31.1 percent. Sales of German brands rose 24.6 percent.
Toyota does not expect to reach positive territory until August this year, Hiroji Onishi, head of Toyota’s China operations, told a small circle of reporters this morning at the Shanghai show. Asked why August, another Toyota executive quipped: “After previous riots in 2005 and 2010, it took half a year to recover. We figure, this time it might take twice as long.”
Others think it might take longer. The worries that Japanese cars get set on fire or smashed have largely abated in China. However, the image of Japanese has taken a lasting hit. “I don’t want to apologize to my friends for my choice of cars,” an American-educated Chinese executive who works for a European pharmaceutical company told me today in the lobby of my Shanghai hotel. He is in the market for a new car, and cross-shopped the Land Cruiser Prado and the Audi Q5. He now tilts toward the Q5, despite the massive recall of the DSG double-clutch gearbox last March.
Onishi said there are “other issues” that hold his company back from recouping lost market share. Those issues being a lack of new and exciting product. Toyota hopes to get back in the good graces of Chinese buyers with revamped versions of the low-cost Vios sedan and its Yaris hatchback sibling. The approximately $14,500 cars probably aren’t low-cost enough to compete with the $9,000 Chevrolet Sail. Onishi said the Daewoo-platformed car was the only low cost car that so far has made a big splash in China.
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