Japanese brands fend off rivals at China auto show

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SummaryGlobal automakers and their Chinese rivals put on sleek displays of new cars at a major auto show Thursday in Guangzhou, the southern Chinese stronghold of Japanese brands that have been hard hit by tensions between Tokyo and Beijing.

Global automakers and their Chinese rivals put on sleek displays of new cars at a major auto show Thursday in Guangzhou, the southern Chinese stronghold of Japanese brands that have been hard hit by tensions between Tokyo and Beijing.

Nissan Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co were among the dozens of brands showcasing new vehicles at the auto show in bustling, prosperous Guang-zhou, near Hong Kong.

The beleaguered Japanese automakers have suffered sharp drops in their China sales since a territorial dispute over East China Sea islands flared in September, inflaming anti-Japanese sentiment and sparking sometimes violent protests. But they didn’t shy away from showing off new models, going head to head with less established rivals sensing an opportunity to seize market share.

The show caps a year of relatively slow sales for carmakers in China, where competition is stiffening after years of white-hot growth. Despite the slowdown, the country remains the world’s biggest auto market, underscoring its importance to carmakers.

“Although the automobile market of China confronts great uncertainties, its great potentiality still makes us confident and eager for the future,” said Yao Yiming, deputy general manager of one of Honda Motor Co’s local joint ventures, Guangqi Honda. Honda unveiled several models for the China market including the Fit Hybrid.

Foreign marques such as PSA Peugeot Citroen, a relative newcomer to China, also brought new models designed specifically for the Chinese market, which is having an increasingly large influence on auto designs.

The anti-Japanese sentiment is “of course” giving a boost to the French automaker's sales, said Jean-Yves Dossal, the company's director of Asian operations. “Not that much, but still this is true that some Chinese customers are scared a little bit of buying a Japanese car.”

The company’s new models include the Peugeot 3008, a crossover sport utility vehicle that is more aggressively styled than the European version, and the Citroen C4L, a midsized sedan that’s only sold in China.

Chinese brand BYD Auto, backed by billionaire investor Warren Buffet, launched the Si Rui, a midsized sedan that it hopes will replicate the success of its best-selling F3 sedan. Fiat, another latecomer to China, highlighted the Viaggio, its first car produced in China, which went on sale in September. Jack Cheng, general manager of the company’s joint venture with a Chinese carmaker, said China will be the “locomotive” for Fiat’s global sales.

China overtook the US in 2009 as the world’s biggest auto market

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