Japanese Auto Dealerships in China Are Empty As Protests Continue

Potential Customers Fear Attacks If They Buy Car Brands From Japan

By Published on .

As anti-Japan protests continue, Toyota and Nissan have started cutting output in China because their dealerships can find hardly anyone to sell their products to.

Consider the plight of a friend of mine who recently moved from Beijing to Shanghai. My friend, who is 31, has a good job. He wants to trade up from his Mazda6, and he really likes the Lexus CT200h compact hybrid. But he decided against buying it in view of strong anti-Japanese sentiment in China these days.

"I don't want to get into trouble," he said. "So I'll see whether the German luxury brands have something similar to offer."

In recent days, I've heard similar stories at the Toyota, Nissan and Mazda dealerships that I visited in my hometown of Shanghai. Everyone is mindful of the protests that erupted last week in more than 180 Chinese cities after Japan purchased a group of islands in the East China Sea from its supposed owner, a Japanese family. China also claims sovereignty over the islands.

During the protests, Japanese cars were smashed and Japanese businesses were attacked. Car sales plunged as Chinese car buyers subsequently shunned Japanese dealerships. Shanghai, a cosmopolitan city, remained relatively calm. But when I visited a couple of dealerships on Wuzhong Road in southwest Shanghai, the Toyota store and the Nissan outlet had only one customer apiece. And when I visited the Mazda store on nearby Songyuan Road, it had no customers at all.

At those three dealerships, the salespeople told me that Chinese consumers fall into two categories. The first group includes real Japan haters. The second group includes those who steer clear of Japanese brands to avoid looking unpatriotic. They fear that if they buy Japanese brands, Japan haters will damage their cars.

My friend from Beijing belongs to this second group, and Japanese car dealers throughout China share my friend's fears. Last week, a Toyota dealership in the east China port city of Qingdao was torched. That explains why the Toyota and Mazda dealerships that I visited showed their patriotism by hanging Chinese national flags in front of their showrooms. They did so even though Shanghai has been relatively quiet compared with other cities. To be sure, a Shanghai resident did set his Honda Civic ablaze in front of a Honda dealership. But I haven't heard of other reports of vandalism there.

So, why is it that Shanghai residents dare not buy Japanese cars? "People fear that their cars will likely be attacked if they drive out of the city," said a salesman at the Nissan dealership.

He's right. In other cities, many Japanese cars have been smashed. Last week, a man driving a Toyota Land Cruiser in Xi'an was severely wounded after being hit by an angry protester, according to Chinese media.

At the Toyota dealership in Shanghai, the only shopper was a short, casually dressed woman in her early 30s. She left without placing an order. I asked a saleswoman at the dealership when she thought business would improve. "Maybe after some time," she replied.

Of course, she had no idea when that day will come, and neither does anyone else. China and Japan both have been careful to avoid the use of military power, but neither country has shown any inclination to back down. As this stalemate drags on, anti-Japanese sentiment in China will not easily abate and Japanese car dealerships will remain empty of shoppers.

Bloomberg reports that Japanese automakers plan additional production cuts in China in response to anti-Japan protests in the country.

--Automotive News China--

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