“Hopeless” – this would be the description of trying to sell Japan-made cars in China at the height of the tensions between Tokyo and Beijing regarding a string of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea which both countries claim but which Japan has effectively nationalized. After that action, outrage sparked all over China, which led to the boycott of Japanese products – among them cars. Japanese carmakers saw their sales in china drop by an average of 40 to 50%, a big hit on their company’s bottom-lines. These days both countries are still embroiled in the territorial dispute, but sales of Japan-made cars are picking up, pointing to an improvement in relations, at least on the economic front, between Asia’s largest economies.
31-year-old Honda Motor salesman Liu Hao said that on a recent November afternoon, around 20 people crowded into his Honda showroom in central Beijing, checking out the new Jade sedan, launched in September specifically for the Chinese market. Liu said that local buyers “trust the good reputation and engine of Honda.” Besides, he adds, fighting between China and Japan “would destroy the world, so there won’t actually be a war.” Honda’s sales in China jumped 212 percent in October from the same period the year before, following a 118 percent increase in September. Potential customers are not worried that anti-Japanese sentiment might endanger them and their vehicles. Instead, they point to the recent public outrage at corruption in the government, saying that drivers of cars with government license tags “should be more worried about citizen anger and the danger of having cars smashed” than drivers of Japan-made cars in Beijing.
This improvement in sales has also made its way to other Japanese car manufacturers as well. Nissan Motors had a 78 percent vehicle sales increase last month after a 54 percent rise in September, and Toyota Motor’s sales grew 81 percent in October and 64 percent the month before. “I understand the political issue isn’t zero, but we see that buyers are coming back to our dealerships,” says Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, president of Fuji Heavy Industries, which makes Subaru cars. China is a small market for Subarus, with Fuji selling only 50,000 vehicles there a year, but the automaker launched a partnership with Chinese distributor Pangda Automobile Trade last month, with Yoshinaga aiming to double China sales.
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