Toyoda visits China

Toyota Motor Corp President Akio
Toyoda sought to ease quality concerns during a low-key visit to China, fresh
from a gruelling hearing in the U.S. Congress over his company’s biggest safety
crisis.

Toyoda flew directly from the
United States to China to meet with government officials and local reporters,
according to media reports, underscoring the importance of an auto market that
surpassed the United States last year to become the world’s largest.

“He’s making this trip because
China has become the biggest auto market, in which Toyota underperformed last
year, from low-end products to high-end ones, such as Lexus,” said IHS
Global Insight analyst John Zeng.

“If Toyota loses China, its
global position would be challenged.”

Even as auto sales contracted in
most major global markets last year during the recession, China’s vehicle sales
jumped 53 per cent to 13.6 million units, as consumers purchased cars under a
raft of government incentives as part of Beijing’s $585 billion economic stimulus
package.

Toyota, which produces cars in
China in tie-ups with FAW Group and Guangzhou Automobile, sold 709,000 cars in
China last year, up 21 per cent from the previous year. But that accounted for
a relatively modest 5 per cent of the market.

Japanese automakers such as Toyota
and Honda have been relative bit players in China to date, with U.S. and
European giants including General Motors, Volkswagen and Ford moving much more
aggressively.

A Toyota spokeswoman in Tokyo said
Toyoda was in China to discuss quality issues, but would not elaborate.

Toyota’s China woes have been
relatively limited so far, with the company recalling 75,552 RAV4 vehicles
there due to faulty accelerators.

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