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Japan-Update

Japanese automakers' China sales outpace market to new record

Hyundai's struggles benefit Nissan, Honda and others

Honda showcased a new CR-V sport utility vehicle at the Guangzhou auto show in November.

GUANGZHOU -- Leading Japanese automakers sold a record number of new autos in China last year, easily surpassing overall market growth in the low single digits.

Nissan MotorHonda MotorToyota Motor and Mazda Motor all recorded their highest-ever volumes in China in 2017, according to preliminary data released recently. Including Suzuki Motor and Mitsubishi Motors, the six big Japanese car companies likely sold a record 4.8 million or so vehicles in China last year, up about 10% on the year.

That many Chinese shunned Hyundai Motor models owing to political friction with Seoul apparently benefited the South Korean automaker's Japanese competitors in the world's biggest auto market.

Nissan and Honda enjoyed particularly sharp increases of 12.2% and 15.5% respectively. Honda's rich lineup of sport utility vehicles drew many Chinese seeking a good balance of quality, design and price. 

Among all automakers selling in China, Nissan and Honda appear to have roughly tied for third place in 2017 volume, behind Volkswagen and General Motors. Toyota's sales rose 6.3% and Mazda's 8.3%, also faster than the overall market growth. 

The U.S. is still the largest market for Japanese vehicles, whose sales there reached around 6.7 million units in 2017. But the American market has shrunk for the first time in eight years. And Toyota, Honda and Nissan sales there remained roughly flat. The Japanese auto market, meanwhile, expanded to 5.23 million units last year, topping the 5 million mark for the first time in two years. Leading Japanese automaker's sales in China are rapidly approaching the size of the domestic market.

As the relative importance of the Chinese market grows, whether Japanese automakers can sustain brisk sales in China this year will become more vital to their global strategies.

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