Japan automakers accelerate China sales despite tensions

TOKYO (AFP) - Two of Japan's top automakers on Monday reported record sales in China last year, after an anti-Japanese consumer boycott depressed demand in the world's largest vehicle market in 2012.

Toyota said it sold 917,500 vehicles in China last year, its best ever. The figure was up 9.2 per cent from 2012, when a dispute over islands in the East China Sea flared anew and sent relations between Tokyo and Beijing plummeting.

The diplomatic row sparked riots across China and a boycott of Japanese brands. A visit last month by Japan's premier to a controversial war shrine once again stirred up longstanding tensions.

The latest figures from Toyota, the world's biggest automaker, beat an earlier target of at least 900,000 units, and the company is now looking to sell more than 1.1 million vehicles in China this year.

Honda, Japan's third-biggest automaker, said it saw China sales soar 26 per cent last year to a record 757,021 units.

"Existing model changes as well as introducing new models helped boost sales," a company spokesman said.

Nissan, which counts on China for about one-quarter of its sales, did not release comparable figures on Monday.

But Japan's number two car company previously said its January to November China sales jumped 13.1 per cent from a year earlier to 1.13 million units.

Nissan, which has three plants in China with a local partner and plans for another factory to open this year, had earlier said it expects to sell about 1.27 million vehicles in the country through 2013.

In November the executive in charge of Nissan's China business said his firm was struggling to catch up with soaring sales in the massive market.

Overall, 19.31 million vehicles were sold in China in 2012, and experts are forecasting sizzling growth until at least 2020.