JAPAN: Toyota recalls 'offensive' sports vehicle ads in China

One of them shows lions, which are popular cultural icons, bowing to and saluting its Land Cruiser Prado

The Straits Times
Friday, December 5, 2003

BEIJING - Japan's largest carmaker Toyota is withdrawing two advertisements for its China-made luxury sports utility vehicles (SUVs) amid growing protests that they were offensive, the company said yesterday.

'We regret that the two purely commercial advertisements have led to misunderstanding and unpleasantness among readers,' said a Toyota spokesman surnamed Yang.

'Our sales company, FAW Toyota Motor Sales Co Ltd, will stop publishing the two ads,' the spokesman said.

One of the advertisements in dispute depicts two stone lions, a popular Chinese cultural symbol.

It shows them saluting and bowing to Toyota's Land Cruiser Prado.

The other shows a Toyota Land Cruiser tugging a heavy-duty truck on the Tibetan highland.

The truck's trademark is too small to be identified.

However, the vehicle looks similar to the Jiefang-brand trucks built by First Automotive Works Corp (FAW).

This is a Toyota joint venture partner in China.

Since the two advertisements were published this month in the latest issue of Auto Fan magazine, they have triggered a flood of comments on popular online car forums, the Beijing Times said.

Many of the comments claimed they were offensive.

The magazine has issued a letter on its website apologising to its readers.

It has also promised to stop publishing them.

The Toyota official said the two advertisements had been published in several newspapers and other periodicals in China and that the company would exert all efforts to withdraw them.

Toyota launched the two luxury SUVs along with Dario Terios, a compact SUV model, through its Chinese joint ventures with FAW last month.

While Toyota is a highly popular brand in China, Japanese companies in general need to be careful not to stir anti-Japanese sentiment, analysts said.

'Japanese automobiles, including those made by Toyota, are well received by many Chinese consumers because of their good quality,' said Mr Zhang Xin, an analyst with Guotai Junan Securities.

'But (Japanese companies) need to be very careful with their promotions.'

Public resentment, linked to Japan's occupation of China in the years preceding and during World War II, is easily aroused.

Anti-Japanese sentiment has been simmering since August when more than 30 people in north-eastern China fell ill after they unearthed chemical weapons left behind by Japan during World War II.

Hangzhou Futong Showa Optical Communications, a Sino-Japan joint venture producing optical communications equipment, had to delay its planned initial public offering (IPO) in September.

Although the joint venture did not say its IPO was shelved owing to the name of its Japanese partner - Showa - it has recently changed its name to Hangzhou Futong Telecommunications.

In Japanese, 'Showa' refers to the era of Emperor Hirohito.

It was under his reign that Japan launched its invasion of China in 1937.