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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



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。”




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。


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%。




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。”




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。










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


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