Japan's Government Wants Standardized Autoparts

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
japan s government wants standardized autoparts

When I stopped working for Volkswagen in 2005, they had some 400,000 parts, or “numbers” as they are called in industry parlance, in their central warehouse in Kassel. With each car, the number climbed higher. On the other hand, some 5 percent were usually out of stock. The launch of each car caused raw nerves in the parts department. When a part was faulty, dealers and production manager were at war for parts. The production managers usually won, and blamed the dealers for shoddy service.

It’s tough enough to keep the hungry beasts at assembly lines and in workshops supplied with parts during peacetime. If a volcano over Iceland blows ash, or if a huge tsunami wipes out a good deal of Japan, it turns into parts paranoia. Now, Japan’s formerly powerful METI, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, is using the Tohoku disaster to force the Japanese car industry to standardize a lot of the parts it uses.

“Under the lead of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, manufacturers of automobiles, parts and materials will look into ways to share more components across the various vehicles produced by the automakers,” reports The Nikkei [sub].

One area is chips. Shortages of microcontrollers turned into a big problem after the tsunami. METI is now considering setting up a committee to discuss the standardization of microcontrollers and other semiconductor-related parts.

This is good news and bad news for the auto industry. The good news is that if a disaster strikes, that chip, battery terminal, brake pad, or cylinder head bolt can be bought from another manufacturer. Larger runs of commodity parts would lower their cost and shorten development times.

The bad news is that it could kill a golden goose. Selling replacement parts at huge mark-ups provides major income for automakers and dealers. Large automakers have it down to a science how to make a part slightly different, just to frustrate the efforts of those who deal in replacement parts. A standardized parts bin eventually will be a bonanza for the Boschs, AutoZones or Pep Boys of this world. It would also lower the barrier of entry for new competition.

Therefore, says The Nikkei, “some in the auto industry worry that using more common parts will shift the focus in the autoparts market too much in the direction of price, exposing Japanese autoparts makers to intense competition from low-cost producers in China and elsewhere.”

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  • Crosley Crosley on Jun 11, 2011

    Even though I like the abstract idea of parts standardization, I have no doubt that government bureaucrats will somehow screw this up and makes things worse for both the consumer and manufacturer. I would think making as many parts standard across product lines as possible would eventually be a net gain for the manufacturer since it really doesn't seem to slow down the aftermarket manufacturers making replacement parts to have so many variations, at least in my experience. Dealer sourced OEM parts will always have a market to those who have their cars serviced at dealerships and from shops and consumers that want higher quality parts.

  • Mike1dog Mike1dog on Jun 13, 2011

    I've been selling auto parts for twenty years now at a Ford dealer, and the proliferation of parts numbers has been ridiculous. We used to have two alternators that basically fit everything, and one power steering pump. Now, even on vehicles with the same engine, like for the 4.0 v6 in the Mustang, Explorer, and Ranger, there will be different parts for each car, when you think it would be easier, and cheaper to just have one set up for that engine.

  • Alan The Prado shouldn't have the Landcruiser name attached. It isn't a Landcruiser as much as a Tacoma or 4 Runner or a FJ Cruiser. Toyota have used the Landcruiser name as a marketing exercise for years. In Australia the RAV4 even had Landcruiser attached years ago! The Toyota Landcruiser is the Landcruiser, not a tarted up Tacoma wagon.Here a GX Prado cost about $61k before on roads, this is about $41k USD. This is a 2.8 diesel 4x4 with all the off road tricky stuff, plus AC, power windows, etc. I'm wondering if Toyota will perform the Nissan Armada treatment on it and debase the Prado. The Patrol here is actually as capable and possibly more capable than the Landcruiser off road (according to some reviews). The Armada was 'muricanised and the off road ability was reduced a lot. Who ever heard of a 2 wheel drive Patrol.Does the US need the Prado? Why not. Another option to choose from built by Toyota that is overpriced and uses old tech.My sister had a Prado Grande, I didn't think much of it. It was narrow inside and not that comfortable. Her Grand Cherokee was more comfortable and now her Toureg is even more comfortable, but you can still feel the road in the seat of your pants and ears.
  • Jeffrey No tis vehicle doen't need to come to America. The market if flooded in this segment what we need are fun affordable vehicles.
  • Nrd515 I don't really see the point of annual inspections, especially when the car is under 3 years (warranty) old. Inspections should be safety related, ONLY, none of the nonsensical CA ARB rules that end up being something like, "Your air intake doesn't have an ARB sticker on it, so you have to remove it and buy one just like it that does have the ARB sticker on it!". If the car or whatever isn't puking smoke out of it, and it doesn't make your eyes water, like an old Chevy Bel-Air I was behind on Wed did, it's fine. I was stuck in traffic behind that old car, and wow, the gasoline smell was super potent. It was in nice shape, but man, it was choking me. I was amused by the 80 something old guy driving it, he even had a hat with a feather in it, THE sign of someone you don't want to be driving anywhere near you.
  • Lou_BC "15mpg EPA" The 2023 ZR2 Colorado is supposed to be 16 mpg
  • ToolGuy "The more aerodynamic, organic shape of the Mark VIII meant ride height was slightly lower than before at 53.6 inches, over 54.2” for the Mark VII."• I am not sure that ride height means what you think it means.Elaboration: There is some possible disagreement about what "ride height" refers to. Some say ground clearance, some say H point (without calling it that), some say something else. But none of those people would use a number of over 4 feet for a stock Mark anything.Then you go on to use it correctly ("A notable advancement in the Mark VIII’s suspension was programming to lower the ride height slightly at high speeds, which assisted fuel economy via improved aerodynamics.") so what do I know. Plus, I ended a sentence with a preposition. 🙂