UPDATE 1-Toyota's China sales rise for first time since June

Fri Feb 1, 2013 2:06am EST

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SHANGHAI Feb 1 (Reuters) - Sales at Toyota Motor Corp and its Chinese joint ventures rose 23.5 percent in January compared with a year earlier, the first rise since the outbreak of anti-Japan protests last year that led to a sharp drop in sales among Japanese carmakers.

Toyota said seasonal factors were behind its first rise in Chinese sales since June, and analysts said it was too early to declare the struggles of Japanese brands over.

"The results are higher than a year ago as the Spring Festival fell in January last year," the company said in a text message. Many shops, including car dealers, close during the week-long holiday which comes in February this year.

Ye Sheng, an analyst at Ipsos, said focus should be on the first-quarter data rather than monthly figures.

"Toyota's year-on-year rise in January sales could have been inflated by several factors: carmakers typically cut prices aggressively before the Lunar New Year, people are more willing to buy new cars at the start of the year, and last year's New Year was in January," he said.

Toyota said it and its Chinese partners sold 72,500 cars in the country in January.

Toyota's China sales fell 15.9 percent in December. Last month's rise was the first year-on-year growth since June last year.

Japanese carmakers saw their China sales drop sharply after violent anti-Japan protests erupted across the country in September after Japan nationalised islands in the East China Sea. China also claims the islands as its own territory.

Sales in China of Japanese brands including Nissan Motor Co and Honda Motor Co, have been recovering slowly since October, but have not yet regained prior levels.

Toyota, which operates car ventures in China with FAW Group and Guangzhou Automobile Group Co , aims to sell 900,000 cars in the country this calendar year, up 7.1 percent from a year earlier. (Reporting Kazunori Takada and Samuel Shen; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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