Japanese car manufacturers in China could lower output for a second month in succession as tension over disputed islands in the East China Sea grows between the two countries.
Bloomberg news agency reported that Toyota, Nissan and Honda had all lowered output in August and could follow suit in September, after anti-Japan protests had rocked parts of China.
Nissan, for whom China represents its largest market by volume, reduced output in August by nearly 9% year-on-year to 86,488 cars, Toyota by 18% – 67,625 – and Honda by 10%.
This year will be the first since 2005 in which Japanese cars lose their lead over their German competitors, according to China's Passenger Car Association.
However some argued that the sovereignty row had yet to take effect.
“The impact from the anti-Japan protests are not yet reflected in the August numbers,” said Yurika Motoyoshi, a Toyota spokeswoman.
“Last year's numbers were unusually high as we recovered from the earthquake and tsunami.
“We've already seen that orders are declining, so the protests' impact will be shown in the September numbers.”
The big three manufacturers were due to suspend production at a number of plants around China imminently to reflect demand patterns, Bloomberg reported, although some believed the cutbacks could open the door for Japan's rivals.
Han Weiqi, a Shanghai-based analyst with CSC International Holdings, said Japanese car makers often added shifts at this time of the year, so would see their market share taken away by American and European automakers, “as consumers who need to buy cars will simply turn away and buy other brands”.