Toyota Motor Corp., Asia’s largest automaker, said its China vehicle sales rose at the slowest pace in at least seven years after natural disasters disrupted output and the removal of tax breaks dented demand.
Deliveries in China for the Toyota City, Japan-based company increased 4 percent last year to 883,000 vehicles, according to an e-mailed statement today. That’s the slowest pace of annual expansion since at least 2004, according to company data. The automaker said it aims for sales in the country to exceed 1 million units this year.
China’s overall vehicle sales growth is forecast to slow to as low as 3 percent for 2011, from a record 32 percent increase in 2010 as inflation, higher interest rates and the end of two-year-long incentives for car purchases deterred consumers. Production at Toyota’s assembly plants in the country fell to as low as 30 percent of normal levels following the earthquake in Japan last March.
“Toyota’s growth in China was undermined by the earthquake but also as a result of its conservative strategy,” Harry Chen, an analyst with Guotai Junan Securities Co. in Shenzhen, said before the company’s announcement. “They have been adding new models at a slower pace than the rivals and if they don’t become more aggressive, they will lose more market share.”
Toyota, which has joint ventures with China FAW Group Corp. and Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., began producing its third-generation Prius hybrid last month in northeastern China for sale early this year. The automaker introduced three new models last year, according to the company.
Toyota had 5.92 percent of the country’s passenger car market, compared with GM’s 17.9 percent, according to calculations based on January-to-November data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. GM, the biggest foreign automaker in China, expanded its sales in the country by 8.2 percent to 2.35 million units in the first 11 months of last year.
Overall vehicle sales last year probably grew between 3 percent to 5 percent, according to the carmakers’ group.
Last month, Toyota said its global vehicle sales may rise the most in at least 12 years in 2012. Its sales fell an estimated 6 percent last year because of disruptions caused by a record earthquake in Japan and Thailand’s worst floods in almost 70 years.
The carmaker may boost global deliveries by 20 percent to 8.48 million vehicles this year from an estimated 7.05 million in 2011, it said in a Dec. 22 statement. The forecast excludes Toyota’s Hino Motors Ltd. and Daihatsu Motor Co. units.
— With assistance by Tian Ying, Liza Lin, and Kongho Chua