Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Earthquake Disaster Shutters Japanese Auto Industry

Nearly the entire Japanese auto industry has been shuttered in the wake of Friday's 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, either due to direct damage to manufacturing facilities or other infrastructure and utility-related problems, according to a research report from IHS Automotive released Monday.

While the report made clear that the situation in Japan was still being appraised, it pointed to at least temporary closures to facilities throughout Japan operated by Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, Subaru and Suzuki.

“Many more auto plants throughout the country are at risk of closure, some owing to temporary rolling blackouts that are being considered in order to conserve power in light of the damage to several Japanese nuclear power plants, and some through disruption to the country’s transport infrastructure, affecting everything from parts delivery, personnel mobility and shipping activity at the country’s ports.”

IHS said that in addition to those closures, and the disruption to the country’s transportation and power networks, dozens of other auto parts manufacturing facilities have also been affected.

These problems could quickly ripple outward to impact the rest of the world, IHS said, since many car makers, including those in the U.S., rely on parts manufacturers located in the hardest hit areas of Japan.

“Stoppages at those plants that produce parts that have second or third sources for manufacturing are unlikely to affect overall production very much, but disruption to production of parts that are unique and cannot be easily shifted has the potential to hit output badly at several automakers through the near term,” the report said.
Honda shuttered a research and development facility north of Tokyo after a cafeteria wall collapsed in the earthquake, and has closed several manufacturing facilities until at least March 20. Honda produces about 80 percent of its US-market cars in the United States.

While Mazda has most of its production facilities in the relatively unscathed southern parts of Japan, the carmaker idled production anyway.

Mitsubishi planned to keep its plants closed until at least Tuesday at it evaluates its supply chain logistics with suppliers in the northern part of Japan.

Nissan reported building or equipment damage at six plants, including the Oppama plant where it makes the new electric Nissan Leaf. The carmaker is assessing the impact to future Leaf supply to the United States. Nissan, which manufactures about 80 percent of its vehicles in Japan, said it is shuttering four Japanese plants until at least Wednesday, while two others will shut until at least Friday. The firm lost 2,300 finished vehicles in the disaster, and said some shipments of vehicles to the US could be delayed.

Subaru, which closed all of its domestic factories over the weekend, planned to resume production Monday.

Suzuki said all of its Japanese plants would be closed until at least March 17, when the company would reevaluate the situation.

Toyota shuttered production at all of its plants in Japan at least through Wednesday, curtailing 45 percent of the firm's global production. The car maker lost about 40,000 vehicles in the disaster, although IHS points out that this amount can easily be made up once production restarts. The company has two factories in the heavily damaged northern area of Japan.