【英语中国】日系车在中国还有希望?

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所属分类:双语中国

2013-12-3 08:58

小艾摘要: Toyota and Honda picked a bad time to take their foot off the accelerator in China. As the global car market went into a financial crisis-induced tailspin in 2008, Chinese demand kept expanding, accou ...
Toyota and Honda picked a bad time to take their foot off the accelerator in China. As the global car market went into a financial crisis-induced tailspin in 2008, Chinese demand kept expanding, accounting for one-third of the industry’s total growth over the ensuing five years.

Last year, annual sales of passenger cars and minivans remained 9 and 14 per cent below their pre-crisis peaks in the US and western Europe respectively, and recovered to 2007 levels in Japan, according to automotive consultancy AlixPartners.

Meanwhile, sales in China’s market more than doubled to 18.6m, making it the world’s largest. “The downturn didn’t really happen in China,” says Bill Russo, a former US auto executive and Beijing-based industry consultant. “China’s share of the global market rose significantly in 2009 and 2010.”

Toyota and Honda missed the party. Together with Nissan, the “big three” Japanese auto companies’ combined share of the China market crashed from more than one-quarter to just 15 per cent in the first half year on year.

Toyota and Honda at least have some interesting excuses. Japanese car companies make for easy targets in China, especially at times of political tension between Asia’s two largest economies.

Chinese nationalist passions boiled over in September last year, after the Japanese government purchased the disputed Senkaku Islands – known in China as the Diaoyu – from their private owner. Japanese car companies briefly halted production as angry crowds targeted their cars and dealerships.

Some Chinese drivers cleverly presented the mob with a moral dilemma – and saved their Japanese cars – by plastering the vehicles with stickers of Chinese flags and other patriotic symbols.

“We lost 50 per cent in sales immediately,” Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan, said as he delivered first-half results earlier this month. The carmaker is yet to regain the 7.7 per cent market share it enjoyed before the dispute.

Toyota’s vehicle sales also dropped rapidly, with many customers cancelling orders and shunning showrooms. It was forced to reduce production temporarily in some plants by as much as 60 per cent.

Japanese auto executives admit that the severity of the incident took them by surprise, given that previous geopolitical flare-ups had not seriously affected production.

“Japanese carmakers always feel that [when it comes to] doing business in China we don’t stand on the same point as western carmakers,” says one industry insider. “We always have to overcome these past political problems.”

Ivo Naumann, AlixPartners’ Shanghai-based managing director, says: “The biggest problem [with these incidents] is on the dealer side. If sales decline or your windows get smashed every three or four years because of some stupid political issue, you ask whether you should continue.”

A series of industrial actions in 2010 that marked the beginning of the end of China’s cheap labour advantage also primarily affected Japanese car plants in southern China. The striking auto workers drew on lingering resentment over their country’s former wartime adversary.

Many analysts, however, do not accept that geopolitics has been the main reason for Toyota and Honda’s poor performance in China over recent years.

They point instead to inadequate plant expansions, low levels of localisation and other strategic errors that were made before Sino-Japanese relations hit their latest low point.

After last year’s turmoil, Toyota’s sales this September rose 45 per cent year on year, according to market research consultancy LMC Automotive, which collates data for every operator in the market, while Honda and Nissan’s China business doubled.

But all three companies’ sales over the first three quarters of 2013 remained largely flat or slightly down versus the same period last year, even as the overall market grew a robust 15 per cent.

“The Japanese took a negative view of the market,” says Mr Naumann. “They simply ran out of capacity. There was demand but they just couldn’t supply it.”

Toyota in particular, he adds, badly underestimated how fast the market would grow.

Toyota enjoyed a bumper 2008 in China, attaining a 10 per cent market share and becoming the country’s second-best-selling brand, after Volkswagen.

But as the global financial crisis took hold, it froze development of a major plant in Changchun, a northeastern industrial centre, and delayed approval for capacity increases at other facilities.

The Changchun plant, originally slated to have begun manufacturing in 2010, finally opened last year with an annual capacity of 100,000 vehicles. “We never thought of [China] as an El Dorado,” one Toyota executive admits.

GM is now firmly entrenched in the number two slot.

Some analysts are optimistic that Toyota and Honda have learnt from their mistakes and can bounce back, although it will be a difficult task in what is now the most competitive national market in the history of the auto industry. More than 100 manufacturers are active in China including every major multinational car company.

“They will regain market share,” says Mr Naumann. “They are still formidable companies. They still have excellent cars.”

Tatsuo Yoshida, auto analyst at Barclays, also believes Japanese manufacturers are at last addressing their deficiencies in China after concerns about intellectual property protection had for years dissuaded them from developing more vehicles there. But he expects that the US will remain their key market.

Additional reporting by Henry Foy in London

丰田(Toyota)和本田(Honda)在中国市场放缓扩张的时机很糟糕。2008年,全球汽车市场陷入由金融危机引起的直线下跌,但中国的需求仍保持增长,在随后五年占全球汽车业总增长的三分之一。

汽车咨询公司艾睿铂(AlixPartners)统计显示,去年,美国和西欧乘用车和小型货车年销量分别比危机之前最高水平低9%和14%,日本则恢复了2007年的水平。

与此同时,中国市场的销量增加一倍以上,达到1860万辆,成为世界最大汽车市场。曾是美国汽车业高管、现在驻北京的汽车咨询师罗威(Bill Russo)说:“中国并没有真的发生低迷,2009年和2010年,中国占全球市场的份额显著上升。”

丰田和本田错过了机会。加上日产(Nissan),这三大日本汽车公司今年上半年在中国市场的总份额从去年同期的逾25%下降到只有15%。

丰田和本田至少有一些有意思的借口。日本汽车公司在中国很容易成为攻击目标,特别是在亚洲两大经济体之间出现政治紧张的时候。

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去年9月,日本政府从私人所有者买下有争议的尖阁诸岛(Senkaku Islands,中国称钓鱼岛及其附属岛屿)之后,中国民族主义情绪高涨。愤怒的民众将日本汽车及其经销商作为攻击对象,迫使日本汽车公司暂时停产。

一些中国司机比较明智地在车上贴了中国国旗和其他爱国主义符号的贴纸,让那些打砸的人在道德上陷入两难境地——籍此拯救自己的日本品牌车。

日产首席执行官卡洛斯?戈恩(Carlos Ghosn)11月发布上半年销量时说:“我们的销量很快就下降50%。”日产的市场占有率依然没有恢复争端爆发之前的7.7%。

丰田的汽车销量也急剧下降,很多客户取消订单,也不再去丰田展厅。丰田被迫临时减产,一些工厂减产60%。

鉴于以往的地缘政治冲突并没有严重影响汽车生产,日本汽车高管承认,此次事件的严重性让他们意外。

一位业内人士说:“日本汽车制造商始终感觉,在中国做生意,我们与西方汽车制造商所处的地位不同。我们永远需要克服过去的政治问题。”

艾睿铂驻上海董事总经理罗曼(Ivo Naumann)说:“这些事件给经销商带来的问题最严重。如果销量下降或者由于愚蠢的政治问题每三、四年门店被砸,那么你就该问问要不要坚持下去了。”

2010年标志着中国廉价劳动力优势时代进入尾声的一系列劳工行动,也主要影响到位于中国南方的日本汽车工厂。罢工的汽车工人利用了中国人对日本侵华那段历史的耿耿于怀。

然而,很多分析师并不认为地缘政治是丰田和本田近年在中国表现糟糕的主要原因。

他们认为,真正的原因是工厂扩建不到位、本地化程度不够高,以及在中日关系跌至最近的低谷之前犯下的其他战略错误。

市场研究咨询机构LMC Automotive统计显示,经过去年的动荡后,丰田今年9月的销量同比增长45%,本田和日产在中国的销量翻番。LMC Automotive整理分析市场上每一家经营者的数据。

但这三家公司2013年前三季度的销量基本与去年同期持平或者略微下降,尽管整体市场强劲增长了15%。

罗曼说:“日本企业对市场看法消极,很简单,他们的产能不够。需求是存在的,但他们就是无法供应。”

他补充说,丰田尤其低估了中国市场增长的速度。

2008年,丰田在中国取得佳绩,占市场份额的10%,成为中国汽车市场第二大畅销品牌,仅次于大众(Volkswagen)。

但随着全球金融危机全面爆发,丰田冻结了中国东北工业重镇长春一家大厂的施工建设,还推迟批准其他工厂的产能扩充计划。

长春的工厂原计划在2010年投产,结果拖到去年才开工,年产量为10万辆。丰田的一位高管承认:“我们没想到中国会成为黄金市场。”

通用汽车(GM)现在稳坐第二的位置。

一些分析师乐观地认为,丰田和本田已经吸取教训并且能够恢复元气,尽管这将是一项艰巨的任务——中国已成为汽车业史上竞争最激烈的市场。100多家汽车制造商活跃在中国市场,包括所有大型跨国汽车公司。

罗曼说:“日本企业将重获市场份额。他们依然是令人敬畏的企业。他们依然生产一流的汽车。”

巴克莱(Barclays)汽车分析师吉田龙夫(Tatsuo Yoshida)也认为,由于担忧知识产权难以保护,多年来日本汽车制造商不愿在华研发更多汽车,但它们现在终于开始应对自己在中国的不足。但他预计美国仍将是它们的关键市场。

亨利?福伊(Henry Foy)伦敦补充报道

译者/王慧玲

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