Toyota Predicts China Sales Won’t Fully Recover Before Autumn

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Toyota Motor Corp., Japan’s largest automaker, said it doesn’t expect sales in China to fully recover before autumn this year as antipathy lingers among the country’s consumers toward Japanese brands.

“Our original expectation was for sales to come back in half a year, but now our plan is to push harder after our new product introductions in the fall,” Hiroji Onishi, Toyota’s China head, told reporters in Shanghai yesterday. “We’ll be focusing more on inland areas and also the younger generation.”

Toyota is displaying 52 models at this year’s Shanghai Auto Show -- including two China-specific world premieres -- as it seeks to reverse its first annual sales decline in the country in at least a decade. The models include the Yundong Shuangqing II, a hybrid concept being developed in Changshu, China, and the FT-HT Yuejia, a six-seater designed to appeal to young Chinese.

“It’s important for Japanese carmakers to develop China-specific cars, or use more local designers to better tailor their cars to local taste,” said Lin Huaibin, a Shanghai-based analyst with IHS Automotive. “Japanese carmakers have traditionally put less emphasis on China, and that’s at the core of why their market share has declined.”

Sales of Japanese cars in China plunged late last year after tensions escalated over ownership of uninhabited islands known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese. The dispute led Japan’s automakers including Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. to cut profit forecasts and reduce output in China.

Sales Slump

The carmaker gained 2.4 percent to 5,610 yen in Tokyo trading as of 10:59 a.m. The shares have climbed 40 percent his year, compared with the 31 percent gain in the benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average.

Toyota sales in China fell 4.9 percent to 840,500 vehicles last year, the first annual drop based on company figures stretching back to 2002.

The Toyota City, Japan-based automaker in January pushed back plans to make China its third million-unit market, after the U.S. and Japan, until 2014 at the earliest as it waits for anti-Japan sentiment to subside and for demand to improve. The maker of Camry sedans expects deliveries in the country to rise about 7 percent to 900,000 vehicles in 2013, it said at the time.

The automaker, which announced a new Lexus ES assembly line in the U.S. on April 19, is also considering producing the luxury model in China in the future, Onishi said yesterday, without being more specific.

Separately, Toyota said work will resume today at its plant in Chengdu, China, which it temporarily halted after the April 20 earthquake in Sichuan province. Toyota had suspended production and told employees to go home to ensure the safety of their families.

The Chengdu factory wasn’t damaged, Akihiro Yamamoto, the Japanese carmaker’s China executive coordinator said yesterday in Shanghai, where he was attending the auto show.