Japanese cement comeback in China as Toyota posts record sales

Toyota's sales in China rose 10 percent to a record in the first half of the year, putting the company on track to meeting its annual target of 1.1 million deliveries. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

(Bloomberg) -- Japanese automakers sold a record number of cars in China in the first six months of the year, cementing a comeback from anti-Japanese protests in 2012.

Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co., Japan's three biggest carmakers, have boosted sales in China this year despite slowing demand that dragged down deliveries at Volkswagen AG and General Motors.

Japanese car brands reached a combined market share of 20 percent as of May, matching levels seen before 2012, when political tensions escalated over a territorial dispute, according to researcher LMC Automotive.

The gains are a bright spot in the world's largest car market, which is headed for the slowest expansion in three years as economic growth moderates and cities cap vehicle registrations.

The slump in demand has prompted automakers to cut prices, threatening profit margins.

"New models are helping the once-laggards to outperform," said Zhu Bin, an analyst at LMC Automotive in Shanghai. "They are filling in for what's left behind by German and U.S. carmakers."

Toyota's sales in China rose 10 percent to a record in the first half of the year on demand for its new Corolla and Levin compacts, putting the company on track to meeting its annual target of 1.1 million deliveries.

Honda boosted sales 30 percent in the same period, while Nissan's rose 5.7 percent, both on the back of new compact and crossover models.

Even with the gains, Japanese carmakers remain vulnerable to political tensions between the two countries. This year, China is planning a military parade in September to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender.

"It's a sensitive year," said Lin Huaibin, an analyst at IHS Automotive. "The anti-Japan sentiment has lingered and some of the consumers have never returned."

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