(Adds comments from Ghosn, other executives)
By Kazunori Takada
GUANGZHOU, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co Ltd’s January-February sales in China may have fallen 20 percent year-on-year, its top executive in China said, highlighting Japanese carmakers’ struggle to recover in the world’s largest auto market.
Nissan, the most exposed of Japan’s leading carmakers to China, said earlier in the month its China sales rose 22.2 percent in January from a year earlier, an improvement from a fall of 24 percent in December, although the figures were impacted by the timing of the week-long Lunar New Year holiday.
Kimiyasu Nakamura, president of Nissan’s joint venture with China’s Dongfeng Automobile Group Co, said that while sales were recovering, they still “might be” down around 20 percent in the January-February period compared with the same period a year earlier.
He was speaking to reporters in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou after unveiling Nissan’s new Teana model.
Showrooms in the world’s largest auto market are often closed for much of China’s Lunar New Year holiday, a week-long break that fell in January in 2012 but came in February this year.
Sales of Japanese carmakers plunged almost 50 percent in October after an outbreak of tension over a chain of disputed islands led to violent protests and a boycott of Japanese-branded goods in China.
“The situation is getting better. It’s getting normalized,” Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn told reporters in Japan on earlier on Tuesday when asked about the business outlook in China for Nissan.
The importance of the China market to Nissan was highlighted by the carmaker’s unveiling of the Teana brand, its first flagship sedan specifically designed for the market.
“There is quite simply no market more important to us than China,” Executive Vice President Andy Palmer said. “China’s market has been, remains and will continue to be an integral part of Nissan’s global sales.”
China sales made up around 25 percent of Nissan’s global sales in 2012.
The Teana model will also be introduced to other markets outside China, Palmer added, without elaborating.
Last month at the Detroit auto show, Ghosn said Nissan will remain cautious about future Chinese investments including its upscale Infiniti brand production until diplomatic relations between Japan and China improve. (Additional reporting by Yoko Kubota in Yokohama, Japan; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters)