Japan automakers' China sales struggle drags into 2013

Wed Apr 3, 2013 4:59am EDT
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BEIJING/TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese car makers' sales in China in the first three months of the year have yet to recover fully from last year's slump, and foreign rivals are capitalizing in a market which expects 7 percent growth in 2013.

Mazda Motor Corp (7261.T: Quote) said on Wednesday that it and its partners' sales in China, the world's biggest car market, dropped 21.5 percent in the three months to March from the same period a year ago.

The figures suggest Japanese car companies are likely to struggle in China for some time to come, and early optimism of a fast recovery - Mazda said in November it hoped to be back to normal by the end of March - was misplaced.

Earlier this week, Nissan Motor Co (7201.T: Quote) said its sales were down 15.1 percent year-on-year in the three months to March, while Toyota Motor Corp's (7203.T: Quote) fell 12.7 percent and Honda Motor Co's (7267.T: Quote) decreased 5.2 percent.

"While the year-on-year percentage drop of China sales by Japanese automakers is shrinking, sales are still down by around 10 percent, which shows that they are still struggling in the overall market. We think this will continue this year and into the next year and the following year," said Masatoshi Nishimoto, an analyst at IHS Automotive in Tokyo.

Though the figures have improved since last September, when sales plunged by around 50 percent after violent anti-Japan protests broke out in China in response to a diplomatic spat between the countries, Japanese firms continue to struggle against rivals including Volkswagen AG (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) and General Motors Co (GM.N: Quote).

Japanese automakers' collective share of China's passenger vehicle market fell to 12.5 percent at the end of February from 16.4 percent at the end of last year, according to data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

German brands in particular have taken advantage and claim 19.3 percent of the market, up from 18.4 percent. Data for March was not yet available.

GM's sales in the first three months rose 9.6 percent from the same period last year, it said on Wednesday.   Continued...

Logos of Mazda Motor Corp are seen at a dealership in Tokyo March 1, 2012. REUTERS/Toru Hanai