UPDATE 1-Japan carmakers Jan China sales jump after weak year-ago sales

Mon Feb 4, 2013 1:57am EST

(Recasts and adds Honda sales)

* Nissan sales up 22.2 pct, Honda up 22 pct

* Toyota up 23.5 pct

* Figures skewed by Chinese New Year holiday

* Impact of anti-Japan protests has been on the wane

Feb 4 (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co Ltd and other Japanese carmakers saw their China car sales improve in January but figures were skewed due to weak holiday-hit sales a year earlier and questions still hang over progress made since anti-Japan protests last year.

Showroom traffic in the world's largest auto market slows dramatically during China's Lunar New Year holiday, a week-long break that fell in January last year but starts on Feb. 9 this year.

That calendar mismatch helped Nissan and Honda Motor Co join Toyota Motor Corp in reporting double-digit climbs in January sales, the first rise since a territorial row over islands in the East China Sea sent sales tumbling in September.

Nissan said sales jumped 22.2 percent in January to 115,700 vehicles, while Honda's increased 22 percent. Toyota, which reported on Friday, logged a 23.5 percent rise.

Even without the calendar impact, though, the effect of the territorial row has waned, with the pace of declines in December much less than drops of almost half seen in September and October, helped by generous incentives.

"Given the difference in the number of working days between this year and last due to the Spring Festival, there is a need to compare the January-February figure. That said, we think the situation is improving compared with a month ago," Nissan said in an emailed statement.

A Toyota executive said last month that showroom traffic in China was recovering to levels seen before the crisis and at a pace faster than expected.

Other automakers have been more downbeat, with Mazda's China Chief Noriaki Yamada saying in November that he expected first-quarter sales to slide by about a fifth from year-earlier levels but that the impact of the row should fade by the end of March.

After years of breakneck expansion, China vehicles sales have lost some steam, climbing 4.3 percent to 19.3 million in 2012. This year, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers estimates growth of 7 percent. (Reporting by Fang Yan in BEIJING and Kazunori Takada in SHANGHAI; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)