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Japan’s trade concerns

Mazda Hofu Plant, Nishinoura District, Japan

Japanese car manufacturers that rely heavily on exports to sell their models in the US would be hardest hit by trade restrictions the country is threatening to impose.

Analysts have said that Mazda is most exposed to any trade restrictions in the world’s biggest car market after China, and their knock-on effects.

Mazda’s operating profit could be cut by 8.5 per cent in the year to March 2019 as it faces risks from a stronger yen if the trade uncertainties weaken the U.S. dollar, while any trade restrictions would raise the cost of imported cars from Japan, they said. 

Japan’s “Big 3” carmakers – Toyota, Nissan and Honda – face risks if an updated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) raises tariffs on vehicles and parts made in Mexico, where all three operate plants, and Canada, where Toyota and Honda build vehicles.

But their relatively higher U.S. production levels than their smaller rivals and more diverse regional manufacturing and sales footprint could help to cushion any impact.

Nissan and Honda, among the Japanese automakers with the most production in North America, could see profit rises of 9 per cent and nearly 6 per cent, respectively, they forecast.

Japanese automakers are already struggling with sluggish sales in North America due to falling demand for sedans, a mainstay of their offering and deeper discounts to shore up sales are hitting margins.

“(W)e see risks to the sustainability of export operations at Mazda Motor and Mitsubishi Motors, which are highly exposed to exports and have no production bases in the U.S. at present,” Nomura analyst Masataka Kunugimoto said in a research note earlier this month to Reuters.

While analysts expect Mazda to post a median fall in operating profit of 8.5 per cent in the financial year underway, some forecasts are for a much steeper decline. A fall would reverse a 20 per cent rise forecast for the year ended March 2018 as a weaker yen boosted its earnings.

Mazda sold roughly 1.6 million vehicles globally in the year to March 2017, nearly 20 per cent of them – all imported – in the United States.

Both Mazda and bigger rival Toyota see roughly 30 per cent of their global sales from the United States, Canada and Mexico, but around 70 per cent of the nearly 3 million cars Toyota currently sells in North America are produced locally in North America.

Mazda, which operates a factory in Mexico, announced earlier this year that it and Toyota would jointly build a manufacturing plant in Alabama, although vehicle production will not begin until 2021.


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Vinsen cancels trip to work on crisis

David Vinsen, chief executive officer of VIA (Imported Motor Vehicle Industry Association) has decided to cancel his long planned motor cycling holiday in Australia to return to New Zealand to assist in resolving the industry crisis surrounding the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) infestations in pure car carriers arriving from Japan. 

In a phone call to Autofile last night Vinsen explained that the issue was sufficiently serious that he would be cancelling his planned trip and return home. 

“I believe the industry needs to call on all of our resources to work through this issue as quickly as possible, VIA will provide the leadership necessary to coordinate all efforts required to resolve this matter as quickly as possible,” says Vinsen. 

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Jobs at risk due to stink bugs

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) have arranged an industry meeting this afternoon to discuss the recent biosecurity risk posed by Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs (BMSB) and Yellow Spotted Stink Bugs (YSSB) found on car carriers.

Three car carriers have already reached New Zealand’s shores with stink bug infestations this month: Armacup​’s Tokyo Car, Mitsui OSK Line’s Courageous Ace, and the latest being Toyofuji’s Sepang Express. 

Glovis Caravel was bound for New Zealand, however the car carrier was redirected on Wednesday after a check conducted at sea found the two types of stink bugs, the YSSB and BMSB.

MPI considers the trade out of Japan a high risk for BMSB and YSSB.

It is presumed the meeting will be discussing how to clear the uncertainties arising from the presence of the stink bugs and the ramifications for the auto industry.

VIA’s website states that the motor vehicle importation industry is worth an estimated $100 million a year to New Zealand, including $80m in Auckland.

A disruption like this can have enormous consequences and can affect thousands of jobs, from inspectors to mechanics. 

2017 saw 331,641 new and used passenger and commercial vehicles entering the country.  

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Toyota sets tough sales goal

Toyota aims to sell 1.4 million vehicles in China in 2018, nearly 9 per cent more than it sold last year.

The sales goal announced by Japan’s biggest automaker on Friday comes at a time when the world’s biggest auto market is experiencing a slowdown in overall vehicle sales growth.

China’s overall vehicle market growth was the weakest last year in at least two decades, increasing only 3 per cent year-on-year to 28.88 million vehicles.

Two insiders at the Japanese automaker said that the target is however more of a “stretch goal.” It is a target that is not the baseline sales forecast and one that executives acknowledge will be difficult to achieve, they said.

“If we could resolve this capacity issue, it would be easy to make the 1.4 million target. With sufficient capacity, we can possibly sell 1.5 million vehicles,” one of the two people said.

Toyota’s forecast for 2018 is relatively more upbeat than the previous few years in part because it expects to launch a couple of potentially high-volume subcompact sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) later this year, the people said.

A Toyota spokesman said that though the 2018 sales target was not one that can be easily achieved due to the highly competitive market environment, the recent launch of a redesigned Camry sedan and the planned introduction of two subcompact SUVs later this year would enable Toyota to challenge the previous year’s numbers.

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Oil seller turns to EVs

JXTG Nippon Oil & Energy Corp. is looking to start an EV car-sharing service at gas stations to help offset the expected decline in oil revenues.

Tsutomu Sugimori, president of Japan’s biggest fuel seller says that it is inevitable that EVs will become more and more prolific, so renting out battery-powered cars and other related services will become necessary for gasoline retailers

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

“There is no point discussing how much and when EVs will become popular as people will shift to EVs to a point where it will have an impact at some time in the future,” Sugimori said in an interview in Tokyo. “As we don’t know the timing, we must start preparations now.”

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Toyota creates new mobility company

Toyota Motor Corp. plans to merge two of its subsidiaries; Toyota Fleet Leasing Co. Ltd and Toyota Tokyo Rental & Leasing Co., Ltd into one new entity, Toyota Mobility Service Co., starting April 1, 2018.

The creation of the new company is to provide new mobility services in anticipation for the increasing demand of such services. 

In its announcement, Toyota was aware of customers’ diversifying needs, which not only includes conventional vehicle ownership, but also the growing need for shared utilisation via as car sharing, in which people use things only whenever the service is needed. 

Ultimately, Toyota’s goal is to become “the leading company of a mobility society” by developing and offering mobility services geared for a connected society. 

“Many corporations operating across Japan are based in Tokyo, where the earliest expansion of the mobility service society is expected to occur,” the release said.

“Consequently, Toyota plans to establish the new company there in order to quickly and flexibly respond to changing uses and needs for cars in this once-in-a-century revolutionary period in the automobile industry.”

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Japan – strong growth in exports

Japan’s industrial output rose more than expected in November, fuelled by strong growth in exports. 

The 0.6 per cent increase in industrial output in November was more than the median market projection for a 0.5 percent rise and followed a 0.5 percent gain in October. Year-on-year production climbed 3.7 percent, which was originally forecasted at 3.6 per cent. 

Industrial output rose in November due to increased production of memory chips, equipment used to make semiconductors, and heavy machinery used in construction, trade ministry data showed on Thursday.

Companies are also forecasting a further increase in December as robust overseas demand continues to support factory activity and broader economic growth. 

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Subaru linked with mileage cheating

Subaru, still hurting from a vehicle inspection scandal, said it is now investigating the possibility that mileage readings may have been falsified during final checks.

Mileage readings do not fall under safety requirements, however any proof of what would be a second instance of misconduct could taint the image of both Subaru and Japan’s manufacturing industry yet again.

The mileage probe follows Subaru’s revelation later this year that uncertified staff had been carrying out final checks on new cars sold in the Japanese market for decades.

Last year a similar situation arose where Mitsubishi saw around 40 per cent of its market value, or $3.2 billion (NZ$4.6 billion), wiped out in three days after it admitted it had overstated the fuel economy of its mini-vehicles.

Subaru on Wednesday said it was checking to see if any possible fabrication could have impacted its official mileage readings and if any exported models may have been affected. 

“At the moment we are trying to confirm whether data was indeed fabricated, and if so, how this happened and which models are affected,” Subaru spokeswoman Miyuki Yasuda said.

She added that any evidence of falsified mileage figures, which show the number of kilometres a vehicle can travel on a litre of petrol, was unlikely to result in a recall as it would not constitute a violation of safety requirements.

This follows Subaru’s revelation in October that uncertified staff had been, for decades, carrying out final checks on new cars sold in the domestic market. The company this week vowed to improve oversight, but it did not mention any probe into mileage readings at the time.

A series of scandals and failings by Japanese companies have surfaced in recent months, tarnishing the country’s reputation for quality control and prompting calls for better governance.

In just the latter half of the year, Nissan Motors has admitted to incorrect final inspection procedures, Kobe Steel and Mitsubishi Materials Corp – all key suppliers of products to global manufacturers – have admitted to product data fabrication.

Subaru’s shares have already fallen as much as 8 per cent to their lowest value since July 2016.

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Japan’s export growth accelerates

Japan’s exports grew for a 12th straight month in November as external demand continued to fuel the nation’s longest stretch of economic growth since the 1990s.

The value of exports rose 16.2 per cent from a year earlier, the biggest increase since August. The 16.2 percent export growth beat a 14.6 percent annual gain forecasted by economists. 

The trade surplus was 113.4 billion yen (NZ$1.4 billion).

In terms of volume, Japan’s exports rose 5.5 per cent from a year earlier, the 10th consecutive month of rises.

The data backs the Bank of Japan’s optimistic outlook for the Japanese economy, the world’s third largest.

Shipments to Asia, which account for more than half of Japan’s exports, grew 20.4 percent in the year to November to 3.89 trillion yen, the record amount.

Exports to the United States rose 13.0 percent in the year to November, led by cars and excavators, following a 7.1 percent gain in the previous month.

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Free trade deal announced

Japan and the European Union, EU have concluded negotiations on a giant free trade deal.

Shinzo Abe said Japan and the EU will join hands and build an economic zone based on free and fair rules.

The deal, which the EU has called its biggest ever, must be signed and ratified on both sides. The broad outlines of the deal were agreed to in July. Once completed, it will forge an economic zone of 600 million people worth 30 percent of global GDP.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said earlier that the agreement, which was four years in the making, had “strategic importance” beyond its economic value.

“It sends a clear signal to the world that the EU and Japan are committed to keeping the world economy working on the basis of free, open and fair markets with clear and transparent rules fully respecting and enhancing our values, fighting the temptation of protectionism,” the pair said in a statement released in Brussels.

Through the deal, the EU hopes to get better access to one of the world’s richest markets, while Japan hopes to jump-start an economy that has struggled to find solid growth for more than a decade.

This will include opening up the EU market to Japanese cars and auto parts.

The two sides were aiming to finalise the specifics in the hope of signing the deal next summer and putting it into effect in 2019.

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Kobe Steel plant loses last quality badge

The plant at the centre of the scandal has lost its ISO 9001 quality certification from the International Standards Organization (ISO)

The Kobe Steel plant at the centre of a data-falsification scandal that has shaken supply chains around the world has been stripped of all its industrial quality certifications, the Japanese government said on Wednesday.

The government sanctioned seal on insulated copper tubing from Kobe’s Hatano plant was also revoked after an investigation by a certification firm into its quality mechanisms, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a statement.

The plant southwest of Tokyo has also lost its ISO 9001 quality certification from the International Standards Organization (ISO), Japan Quality Assurance Organization said.

Earlier, the plant was stripped of its Japan Industrial Standards (JIS) seal for seamless copper pipe products used for air conditioning and refrigerators, as a consequence of the scandal.

JIS-certified products cover about 40 per cent of Hatano’s sales by weight, Kobe Steel said. Copper products made up about 7 per cent of the company’s total sales in the year to March 2017.

“We aim to regain the JIS certification and recover trust from our customers as soon as possible by implementing measures to prevent future misconduct,” Kobe Steel said in a statement.

Industry experts said customers may switch suppliers or pick Kobe’s competitors for future orders.

Three other Kobe Steel copper and aluminium plants tangled up in the data cheating had their ISO 9001 quality certifications suspended earlier this month for up to six months.

Kobe Steel is Japan’s third-largest steelmaker, which supplies producers of cars, planes, trains and other products across the world, said last month that about 500 of its customers had received products with falsified specifications.

Furthermore, Kobe Steel has an extensive role in global supply chains. It produces engine valve springs found in half the world’s cars, according to its website.

Kobe shares have dropped nearly a quarter since news of the data interfering in early October.

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