US car plants brace for shortage
Japanese parts may get scarce
DETROIT — Nissan Motor Co. yesterday said it is considering moving some engine production from Japan to the United States because of earthquake damage to a Japanese plant, another illustration of how seriously the disaster has upended the global network of auto supplies.
Car factories could face serious shortages of Japanese parts by the middle of next month unless Japan’s auto industry can quickly restart its shuttered production following the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami, analysts say.
As stockpiles of parts from Japan run low in the coming weeks, some North American plants are bracing for shutdowns. Toyota has warned workers it may idle operations.
“The impact of the supply shortage will begin to be felt more intensely by global automakers by the middle of next month,’’ Paul Newton, auto analyst with research firm IHS Automotive, said.
Supply disruptions in Japan generally are felt by US manufacturers three to four weeks later, depending on a company’s stockpiles, Newton said. That is because of the time it takes to ship parts from across the globe. So shortages caused by Japan’s the March 11 disaster could hit the United States by mid-April.
Newton said the Japan disaster could result in a 30 percent drop in global automotive production. It is still unclear how much money will be lost due to the plant closures, he said.
He predicted that there will be rolling shutdowns of plants, starting as soon as next week, as car companies realize they are about to run short of parts. Plants could deal with short-term shutdowns for the next few months, he said. “It is quite a sharp drop as the supply-chain issues filter through,’’ he said
Toyota Motor Corp. said late Wednesday that it expects to halt production at some of its North American factories, but doesn’t know when or for how long.
The impact should be limited, Toyota said, because most parts used in its North American factories come from a network of 500 suppliers based in the region. It continues to get part shipments from Japan that were en route before the magnitude-9.0 quake struck.
The company has already suspended overtime and Saturday shifts in North America, where it has 13 plants that build 70 percent of the cars and trucks it sells in the United States
Nissan said yesterday that its US plants will operate at full production through April 1 and may even pick up some business due to damage at the Iwaki engine plant in Japan. Nissan said it is studying whether to have its Dechard, Tenn., engine plant supply six-cylinder engines to Japan.
Honda Motor Co., Mazda Motor Co., and Mitsubishi Motor Corp. said North American production is continuing normally. Subaru, a division of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., also said that North American production is continuing, although it has suspended overtime. Fuji resumed making parts for its foreign operations on Wednesday.
In February, North American production reached 1.06 million vehicles, 15 percent higher than the same month a year earlier.
In Japan, Toyota plans to resume production of the Prius and two Lexus hybrids — the HS 250h and CT 200h — on Monday. Nissan said it resumed production of its Leaf electric car. And Honda extended the shutdown of two plants to April 3.