(c) 2013, The Yomiuri Shimbun.
(c) 2013, The Yomiuri Shimbun.
Preview sessions of major motor shows got under way this week in the United States and China, the world's two largest car markets, with Japanese automakers seeking to draw attention to their technological prowess by unveiling futuristic vehicles.
In China, sales of Japanese cars have been recovering from last year's sharp drop following anti-Japan demonstrations, while the U.S. market is also gaining pace.
The Guangzhou International Auto Parts and Accessories Exhibition in Guangzhou, China, opened on Thursday to media ahead of its full opening from Nov. 22 to 30. Participating automakers have expanded their display space to compete in the Chinese market, where more than 20 million cars are expected to sell this year.
As air pollution is becoming increasingly problematic in China, the Chinese government is expected to strengthen emission regulations. Japanese firms apparently see this as an opportunity to strongly promote their fuel-efficient, low-emission cars, believing that Japanese vehicles have an advantage over foreign competitors in those technologies.
Toyota Motor Corp. has brought the eco-friendly performance of its products to the forefront, displaying its hybrid Prius and Camry, along with a prototype of a hybrid car designed for the Chinese market. The new hybrid will make its debut in the market in 2015.
Toyota's Senior Managing Officer Hiroji Onishi said: "We expect to reach a goal of selling more than 900,000 cars this year. I'd like to set a goal of 1 million for next year."
Nissan Motor Co. is showing its "Teana Duke" vehicle, a high-end version of its Teana sedan, with more interior space to appeal to China's wealthy class.
A joint company launched by Honda Motor Co. in China marked an about 23 percent year-on-year increase in sales from January to October, much higher than the market's growth rate of 13.5 percent.
Many Japanese automakers have been seeing a recovery in sales in China since autumn. Mazda Motor Corp.'s Executive Officer Nobuhiko Watabe, who is in charge of operations in China, spoke for other automakers, saying the "aftereffects [from anti-Japan protests] have disappeared."
Automakers participating in the Los Angeles Auto Show from Friday to Dec. 1 are displaying eco-friendly cars mainly in response to strict environmental regulations in the state of California.
To seize the opportunity to boost new car sales backed by an economic recovery in the United States, companies are also introducing full-size car models, such as sport-utility vehicles and pickup trucks.
Honda this week unveiled a prototype of a next-generation fuel cell vehicle that has a fuel cell 33 percent smaller than the current type, as well as five seats, up from four. The firm plans to start selling this car in Japan and the United States no later than the end of 2015.
Among full-size and luxury cars introduced at the show are hybrid versions of Toyota's SUV Highlander and a prototype of a new Legacy vehicle by Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.
New car sales in the United States have improved, with a year-on-year increase of 10.6 percent in October. The resurgent Big Three are going on the offensive with midsize sedans and hybrids, areas in which Japanese makers are strong.
Kurihara reported from Guangzhou and Echizenya reported from Los Angeles.