By on April 12, 2011

In a memo that surprises no-one that has followed TTAC’s extended coverage of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Toyota’s U.S. chief  Bob Carter warns dealers that deliveries of parts and cars could be severely restricted for months to come. “What we don’t know are vehicle production levels for May through July,” Bob Carter wrote in a memo. “The potential exists that supply of new vehicles could be significantly impacted this summer.” You have seen this coming.

Most of Toyota’s Japanese production has been down for a month now. As of last week, Toyota – and for that matter the Japanese industry – had no clear picture of the status of many suppliers and their parts. With near daily regularity, Japan is being rocked by huge 6 to 7 magnitude earthquakes that became “normal” only in comparison to the March 11 monster. Japan runs out of everything from bottle caps to cigarette filters, and especially out of electrical power. Renesas, a company that controls about 41 percent of the global market for automotive microcontrollers, is battling outages that will affect strategic supplies for many months. In a land that can only guess how many of its own have died (currently, the confirmed number stands at 13,013, while 14,608 are listed as missing), the only thing that is clear is uncertainty.

Currently, the only car production Toyota has running in Japan is that for the Prius, the Lexus HS 250h and CT 200h, and a just re-opened tired plant in Sagamihara that had been scheduled for decommissioning. In addition, Toyota has been making some parts. Toyota will restart vehicle production at all its Japanese facilities from April 18 to 27 – very carefully. Then, production will be shut down for a holiday week, while parts levels are being assessed.

Add to this a month-long supply line to the Americas and Europe, and you have problems well into June and beyond – from the currently known outages alone. “The memo is Toyota’s clearest statement that the shortage caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan will last into the third quarter,” writes an astonished Wall Street Journal. Only amateurs will be surprised. In the morning after the tsunami we had warned that it will severely disrupt the auto industry around the world.

Last week, we said that it is it is conceivable that the industry in total will have lost a million cars by the end of April – in Japan alone. IHS Automotive ups the ante and says that five million fewer vehicles could be produced globally this year. Michael Robinet, a senior analyst with IHS Automotive said “it would be miraculous if Nissan and Honda were able to circumvent the same pressure that Toyota is feeling,”

Today, The Nikkei [sub] writes that Japan’s major automakers barely begin “restarting production at domestic plants suspended by last month’s earthquake.” Nissan will bring a small-car factory in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, back online Monday. Honda has resumed operations at assembly plants in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture, and Suzuka, Mie Prefecture. “Even though their production will remain at about half normal levels for a while,” writes The Nikkei, “the three manufacturers intend to gradually lift facility utilization as they restore supplies of components that have been disrupted since the March 11 disaster.”

Japan has lost a month of production. Production is on half rations until further notice.

Only amateurs will assume that the problems will be limited to Japanese manufacturers. Ford warns in an SEC filing made yesterday that “we now expect that beginning in the last week of April and continuing into May, certain of our operations in the Asia-Pacific region (including certain of our joint venture operations) will be affected by shortages of components and vehicle kits as a result of the events in Japan.” The company does not expect “a material impact on” its overall results from this.

However, the filing continues, “because the situation in Japan continues to develop, supply interruptions related to other materials and components from Japan could manifest themselves in the weeks ahead.  Should the supply of a key material or component from Japan be disrupted and an alternate supply not be available, we could have to reduce or temporarily cease production of vehicles, which could adversely affect our and Ford Motor Credit Company’s financial condition and results of operations.” As a precautionary measure, this is a filing any U.S. listed car company should make.

Lastly, as we have been warning from a few days after the tsunami until yesterday, the limited supply of cars will have a material impact on car prices and car sales. April transaction prices are expected to be the highest in 15 years, when measured as a percentage of MSRP. And as you can see from above, this is also just the beginning.

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10 Comments on “Tsunami Hits Home: Fewer Cars, Higher Prices For Months To Come. Surprised?...”

  • avatar

    This is good. More people will be forced to buy girly cars. More girly cars for everyone!

  • avatar

    Haven’t you heard? Girly cars are the new macho! Driving one means that you’re not compensating for anything!

  • avatar
    Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

    Oh well, I guess I’ll keep the SDL for another year or two, especially since I just had to sink a nice chunk of change into it for some new parts after a serpentine belt snap on the highway..

  • avatar

    The situation in Japan goes from bad to worse:

    It looks like the lights will be out for a while.  With no idea how long it will take to get reliable power, I would expect we would see at least some manufacturing processes moved to alternate suppliers off shore.  I realize that this is not trivial, but it seems quicker and easier than rebuilding Japan’s shattered infrastructure.

    • 0 avatar

      What is one of the biggest disasters is the TEPCO PR strategy – if you can call it ghat. From “it’s nothing” to “as bad as Chernobyl.”  More hysteria. It’s not as bad as Chernobyl at all. That nuke was on fire for days & weeks, had no containment and was spewing massive radiation clouds into the atmosphere that rained down all over Europe. None of that in Fukushima.
      Ther is an independent geiger counter in Tokyo, and it barely registers. Current reading above, reference for 2010 below.
      It is absolutely true that power will be a huge problem.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I was planning to buy some S2000 parts later this summer, but I went ahead and ordered them now in case American Honda decides to ration their part stocks in order to be able to cover warranty repairs.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Electrical power shortages are going to be a big problem in Japan for a very long time. It takes more than a snap of the finger to replace the output of the lost plants. One of the odd things about Japan is that it has two different, incompatible electric power systems! Eastern Japan is on a 50 cycle per second alternating current system while western Japan uses 60 cycle per second power. That is just nuts. Some electronic devices can automatically adapt to either standard, but industrial items like electric motors, transformers and timers all generally are designed for one or the other. In any case, there is absolutely no way to inter-tie the incompatible systems. Available power in Western Japan cannot be routed to where it is needed in Eastern Japan.

    • 0 avatar

      There is a way. They are talking about stations to convert from one frequency to the other – however, they need to be built.
      Most (or just about all) electronic devices don’t care about the frequency, or even the voltage for that matter. The days of the TV set or the record player keying on the line frequency are over. But heavy duty industrial equipment indeed is frequency sensitive.

  • avatar


    The biggest turntable company in the world, Pro-Ject of Prague, uses line frequency and synchronous motors, so line frequency is indeed important. Even for induction motors in your heating system such as fans, you need to supply the correct frequency or they will be way off their design speed.

    As for voltage, try plugging in your 120 volt mixer to 240 volts. I’d recommend standing back when you flip the on switch and advance the variable speed trigger! The obverse usually elicits only a grunt. Apparently, nobody has yet produced a battery powered kitchen mixer like a portable drill.

    For John, from Wikipedia:

    “The boundary between the two regions contains four back-to-back HVDC substations which convert the frequency; these are Shin Shinano, Sakuma Dam, Minami-Fukumitsu, and the Higashi-Shimizu Frequency Converter.” Pretty standard stuff since the late 1960s. These are even used to tie AC grids together, such as Quebec and New Brunswick so that they can operate a little bit off the nominal 60Hz frequency from each other.

    The Japanese interconnections are not of great capacity, and further reading implies that TEPCO has been the laggard in not approving more robust inter-ties. These are the geniuses running the Fukushima plant, and apparently are not particularly industry friendly. The Japanese steel industry kowtows to them, according to one article I read.

    • 0 avatar

      As someone who had moved 4 times between 220V/50Hz Germany and 110V/60Hz U.S.A. , one time between both Germany and U.S.A. to 220V/50 Hz China, and who is constantly traveling between the 110V/60Hz part of Japan and 220V/50 Hz China, I am intimately familiar with the matter. You may have recognized that I used the world “electronic” and not “electrical” device, and that I specifically excluded industrial equipment.

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