TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp. is "groping in the dark" in its efforts to gain a foothold in the growing Chinese market, Toyota President Fujio Cho said.
Because joint-venture partner First Auto Works, or FAW, distributes the cars Toyota sells in China, Toyota has little feedback on what vehicles are selling well or poorly there, Cho said.
In a roundtable discussion with journalists, Cho complained that Toyota is getting "no information on the market at all in China. "We need to know what really are the preferences and wants of customers."
In China, a high percentage of new cars are sold through nonbranded supermarket-type outlets that typically do little if anything to collect market data for manufacturers.
Without a Toyota dealer network, most Toyotas would be sold through these outlets.
That will change. Toyota and FAW are forming a network of 100 Toyota-branded dealers in the next year.
Toyota is in the first year of its alliance with FAW. The partners plan to sell about 50,000 units this year, mostly Vios subcompacts that FAW builds in Tianjin.
FAW also builds the Land Cruiser 100 in Changchun and Land Cruiser Prado in Sichuan, and it has plans to build the Corolla next year and the Crown in 2005.
One potential snag for Toyota is the Chinese government's requirement that automakers transfer their technology in exchange for the license to build and sell cars there.
While Cho said that Toyota wants "to enhance the technical capabilities of our partners in China," he cautioned that there is a limit to what it would share.
"There are those technologies that are not open," he said. "We cannot transfer every piece of technology, for sure."