Half of Chinese consumers say they wouldn’t buy a Japanese car

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Japanese automakers have been ramp-up of activities in China to attract buyers. But research suggests they are fighting an uphill battle.

Anti-Japanese sentiment remains a barrier for Japanese car brands in the world’s largest market, according to a study by Bernstein Research. Of the roughly 40,000 consumers surveyed, 51% said they would not consider buying a Japanese car, with just over half blaming personal anti-Japanese sentiments.

Most worrying for automakers is that the backlash is greatest in smaller but growing Chinese cities such as Changsha, Dongguan and Xian, the very markets that many automakers rely on for future growth.

Japanese brands and their Chinese joint venture partners will generate good growth this year, wrote analyst Max Warburton in a research note. But in the longer term, the picture is “complicated”.

“Nationalist sentiments are an obstacle. [Japanese] Premium brands will struggle, “he wrote. Meanwhile,” the one thing that stands out most clearly is that most Chinese really want a German car. While we expect Japanese brands to continue to regain market share this year, the market will ultimately belong to the Germans. “

According to the survey, conducted with the Chinese site Autohome, Chinese consumers consider Japanese cars to be more economical to own and more comfortable than German or American cars. Japanese brands were also considered “extremely superior” to South Korean brands such as Hyundai and Kia.

The survey suggests that Nissan Motor, the largest Japanese brand in China by sales, is seen here as a brand aimed at older buyers with relatively low-income families, which Mr. Warburton described as ” concern ”.

Nonetheless, the automaker is expected to see an increase in sales of new or recently launched Nissan models, and Bernstein expects it to “grow strongly” in China over the next two years.

Japanese automakers hoping to tap into China’s burgeoning luxury car market could also have problems. Only 41% of those polled who intended to buy cars valued at over 300,000 yuan (about $ 48,000) said they would consider buying a Japanese luxury brand. This was even lower than the 49% acceptance rate the Japanese recorded among mainstream brands.

– Colum Murphy. Follow him on twitter @Colum_M
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