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Toyota China sales tumble again in Nov, though pace eases: executive

By Norihiko Shirouzu

BEIJING (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> is still struggling to revive sales in China, part of a broader slump Japanese car firms are suffering as a result of a diplomatic row between the countries.

Toyota's sales in China totaled roughly 60,000 vehicles last month, a senior company executive said, compared with 81,800 cars the company and its Chinese partners sold in November last year.

The pace of the last month's decline - roughly 25 percent from a year earlier - eased from the previous two months but was still "far off from our more normalized and targeted sales pace," said the Toyota executive who declined to be named because the information had not yet been made public.

Toyota's numbers indicate that sales in China by other Japanese carmakers are also likely to be down. For most of those firms, sales are still falling at double-digit rates from 2011 levels, though the pace of decline has slackened recently.

Toyota is expected to announce its China sales data for November on Monday, according to a Beijing-based company spokesman. He did not respond to calls seeking comment on November sales.

"It probably won't be until March or April when we see sales return to a pre-September pace," the senior executive said, echoing a consensus expressed by officials from other Japanese brands.

Demand for leading Japanese car brands in China virtually halved in September and October. That reduced the Japanese firms' collective market share in China's passenger car market, which excludes trucks and buses, to about 17 percent from 19 percent at the end of August, according to the China Association of Automotive Manufacturers.

Toyota's sales fall in November followed a decline of 44 percent in October, and almost 50 percent in September.

Violent protests and calls for boycotts of Japanese products broke out across China in mid-September after Japan nationalized two East China Sea islands, known as the Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, by buying them from their private owners.

Some Chinese consumers have since avoided Japanese-brand cars. In a widely reported incident during the height of anti-Japanese sentiment, a Chinese man was attacked by angry protesters for driving a Toyota Corolla. The driver was so severely beaten that he was partially paralyzed.

At the start of the year, Toyota said it aimed to sell 1 million cars annually in China. This target is unlikely to be met until 2013 at the earliest.

(Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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