TOKYO -- Honda Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. are expanding in China in an effort to take a bigger bite of the world’s biggest auto market and catch Western rivals there.
Honda said it will double the planned production capacity of a factory being built in Wuhan and possibly manufacture hybrid vehicles there.
Mitsubishi, meanwhile, has set up its first 50-50 joint venture in the Middle Kingdom with aims to double capacity there.
The moves come as Japanese automakers struggle to catch international leaders Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co. in China’s ever-expanding auto market. Claiming the top three sales slots for international brands in China are Volkswagen, GM and South Korea’s Hyundai Group. Toyota Motor Corp. and Renault-Nissan follow.
Honda ranks No. 6 among international brands, but Mitsubishi hasn’t cracked the top 10.
Mitsubishi is one of the last Japanese automakers to form a 50-50 joint venture in China. Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., maker of the Subaru brands, also has no production there but aims to announce a partnership by year end.
Honda is building a second assembly plant for Dongfeng Honda Automobile Co., one of the Japanese automaker’s 50-50 local joint ventures. Honda broke ground this month, saying initial capacity will be 100,000 vehicles a year instead of the 60,000 first planned.
Honda eyes hybrids
Capacity at the plant in Wuhan will be expanded further to 120,000 in 2013, with an eye toward reaching 240,000 annually, Honda said.
The current plant operated by Dongfeng Honda has annual capacity of 240,000 vehicles.
Japan’s Nikkei newspaper said that the new plant will manufacture the Civic subcompact and that Honda also will start making hybrids in China as early as 2012.
Seiji Kuraishi, Honda’s China boss, confirmed that the company wants to build hybrids in China someday. But the company said details and timelines remain undecided. The Nikkei cited the Civic and Fit hybrids as two possibilities for China production.
Hybrids comprise only a tiny fraction of Honda’s overall sales in China. Sales were up 16 percent to 475,695 vehicles through September, but Honda sold only 63 hybrids in that period.
By 2013, Honda expects to have annual capacity of 890,000 vehicles in China, including capacity for 480,000 at its Ghuangzhou Honda joint venture and 50,000 at Honda Automobile (China), a local venture that builds for export.
Mitsubishi’s last push will give it a 50 percent stake in GAC Changfeng Motor Co., up from 14.6 percent. Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., which currently has 29 percent of the joint venture, will boost its stake to 50 percent under the restructuring.
GAC Changfeng now has annual capacity for 80,000 vehicles and makes the Mitsubishi Pajero SUV as well as Changfeng-badged SUVs. Mitsubishi plans to ramp that up to 250,000 units within five years and start production of a new vehicle there in July 2012.
In addition to GAC Changfeng, Mitsubishi owns 25 percent of Soueast (Fujian) Motor Co. That venture has capacity for 150,000 vehicles and makes the Mitsubishi Galant and Lancer sedans.