By on March 30, 2011

Japanese car production was down 5.5 percent in February on weak domestic sales (down 12.4 percent in February to 401,292 vehicles) which were (not quite) compensated by a 13.2 percent rise in exports, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association says. Exports were especially strong to Europe, where 73.7 percent more cars were shipped. A total of 795,632 automobiles (all kinds) were made in Japan in February. This was the good news.

“Vehicle production in the country is likely to fall sharply in March, as Japanese car makers struggle with parts shortages and other disruptions after the massive earthquake on March 11,” writes The Nikkei [sub]. It takes no crystal ball to come to this conclusion. Japanese car production pretty much came to a standstill after the quake. Depending on who you talk to, the Japanese industry will have lost between 350,000 and 400,000 units by month’s end, with 400,000 the more probable number. For March, the Japanese automobile industry will most likely report a production reduction in the neighborhood of 50 percent or more. This would be a throwback to the darkest days of carmageddon: In March 2009, Japan made 552,071 units. This March, it could be less.

Early sales numbers give a taste of things to come: By March 29, Japanese domestic car sales were down 30 percent, says The Nikkei [sub]. The final number is likely to be worse. One of the oddities of the Japanese car market is that about 40 percent of the sales take place in the last three or four days of the month. “But that is unlikely to happen in March because cars are not being delivered to dealerships,” says The Nikkei.

The full brunt will hit in April. With most production down for the coming month, April will most likely be one of the worst months in modern history of Japanese car production.

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