Japan's imports of automotive parts rose 18.9% from a year earlier to 145.3 billion yen ($US1.23 billion) in the first six months this year, according to government statistics cited by the website AutoAsia Online.

By value, imports from China increased 44.6%, Thailand 43.3%, Germany 24.9% and France 22.5%, AutoAsia Online said.

The website said local analysts believe the 145.3 billion yen figure, about $US2.5 billion on an annual basis, is still relatively small given the scale of the vehicle industry in Japan.

AutoAsia Online said that cost considerations are forcing a change in Japanese manufacturers' attitudes to overseas sourcing with Calsonic Kansei, for example, announcing that it will close two domestic factories next October and spin another off into a separate company while sourcing all future air conditioner parts from China and planning to establish a Chinese subsidiary in Wuxi next year.

Shifting annual production of 6.7 million air conditioner motors currently made at the firm's Tochigi factory in Japan to China  will cut manufacturing costs by an estimated 20%, AutoAsia Online said, adding that CalsonicKansei officials say that demands from largest customer Nissan for on-going price reductions leave them with no choice.

AutoAsia Online said that another Nissan group supplier, Ichikoh Industries, will double imports of European components for use in lighting modules, working closely with Valeo, the Tier One French supplier that has close ties with Nissan's alliance partner, Renault.

Overall, AutoAsia Online said, Ichikoh will lift overseas procurement from 10% to up to 30% of its total spend by April 2004.