Sales of Japanese cars in China in the first three months of 2013 still had not recovered from last year's slump following a diplomatic row over disputed islands between the two countries.

Mazda reported sales in China fell 21.5% in the three months from the same period a year ago. Nissan said its sales were down 15.1% while Toyota fell 12.7% and Honda was down 5.2%.

Analysts told Reuters Japanese car companies are likely to struggle in China for some time to come, certainly this year and into 2014.

Sales have improved since last September, when sales plunged by around 50% after violent anti-Japan protests broke out in response to the diplomatic spat between the countries, but Japanese carmakers have continued to struggle against rivals such as Volkswagen and General Motors.

Japanese carmakers' collective share of China's passenger vehicle market fell to 12.5% at the end of February from 16.4% at the end of last year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Meanwhile German brands have risen from 18.4% to 19.3%.

Honda is proving the most resilient of the Japanese this year, partly as a result of the redesigned CR-V crossover SUV it launched in 2012. In the two months to February, overall SUV sales surged 50.2% year-on-year, more than double the gain of sedan sales, according to CAAM.

Nissan, however, has pushed back by one year to 2017 its target of achieving a 10% market share in China, up from the current 7%.