Japan Readies Auto Industry for Coronavirus Complications

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
japan readies auto industry for coronavirus complications

Yep, we’re still talking about the damned coronavirus. But how could we not, with the situation being obfuscated from all sides as the outbreak just seems to worsen? Both Japan and South Korea have reported their first deaths relating to the virus; meanwhile, the unsettling theory that 2019-nCoV was created in a Chinese laboratory has grown by leaps and bounds.

While the mainstream media has dismissed this as an unfounded conspiracy, loads of circumstantial evidence published by reputable sources leave one wondering. Our favorite is that the exotic meat market initially pegged as the disease’s point of origin was across the the street from (get this) a viral disease laboratory. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has repeatedly pushed for the virus’ origin to be found, saying “We also know that just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases,” only to be framed as an alarmist crank.

There was also a Chinese coverup (similar to SARS) that kicked off when police detained eight doctors in Wuhan for attempting to warn the public of a potential outbreak. The point here is that nobody seems ready to give (or even search for) answers in China. Naturally, this has left people confused and scared, rather than just scared.

The automotive industry is being thrashed by the outbreak as supply lines break down and Asian sales estimates fall into the gutter. Hoping to minimize the coronavirus’ impact, Japan has formed a joint council for automakers and suppliers to work with the government. The council’s primary goal is to ensure supply lines don’t break down while also serving as an early warning system for any industry-related outbreaks.

“Automakers, component manufacturers and the government must work together to ensure rapid response to the information on the industry, with a view to ensuring that measures can be taken to prepare for the possible impact of the new coronavirus on the automotive supply chain in the future,” explained the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

Announced Thursday, the group’s official name is the “ New Coronavirus Countermeasures Automobile Council” and comes after several noteworthy factory shutdowns related to virus-caused supply issues. Automotive News, which broke the story, provided a brief recap:

Nissan closed part of its production line in Kyushu, southwest Japan, on Feb. 14 and 17, and will also halt output on Feb. 24. Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Toyota have halted some operations in China, although they haven’t yet had to do so in Japan due to parts shortages.

The coronavirus outbreak shuttered factories in China’s Hubei province and disrupted the supply of everything from transmissions to steering systems. The effect is being seen across the global auto industry.

Earlier this month, Hyundai and Renault suspended production in Korea, and Fiat suspended production of the 500L in Serbia, because of component shortages. Jaguar Land Rover has flown Chinese parts in suitcases to Britain to maintain production. Nissan said it may face stoppages at plants in Europe and the U.S.

Recent claims that the virus is gradually burning itself out, with infection rates slowly tapering off, may have been premature. As of Thursday, deaths reached 2,130 (out of 75,700 known cases). Considering China’s willingness to fudge numbers that cast the country in a bad light, the real figures could be higher. It’s probably a better idea to air on the side of caution and attempt to remain one step ahead, which the Japanese joint council plans on doing.

Useful in helping understand the complications born of the outbreak, the effort will also help the auto industry plan around any unpleasant surprises (likely requiring several manufacturers to source parts outside of China). It’s also telling that the Land of the Rising Sun is taking the coronavirus seriously enough to create an industrial coalition that’s entirely devoted to combating it. The crisis doesn’t look anywhere near over and, judging by the existence of the New Coronavirus Countermeasures Automobile Council, Japan feels similarly.

[Image: Nissan]

Join the conversation
2 of 7 comments
  • Redgolf Redgolf on Feb 21, 2020

    "The virus will reduce inventory and manufacturers will hold margin for the next six months." Exactly! I'm pretty sure the Covid-2019, sick of the name Coronavirus, will be affecting production here at the Nissan plant in Smyrna Tn., producing too many vehicles that aren't selling like in 1999! "Say say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time So tonight I'm gonna party like it's nineteen ninety-nine" ( Prince )

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Feb 22, 2020

    For GM and Nissan this is a good excuse to idle their plants. Both are over producing vehicles giving both time to work their inventories of unsold vehicles down. It also would give both time to eliminate some of their slower selling vehicles. GM's botch job on the new Silverado and Nissan's Jatco transmissions and less than stellar Titan are hurting both.

  • MaintenanceCosts We hear endlessly from the usual suspects about the scenarios where EVs don't work as well as gas cars. We never hear the opposite side of the coin. From an EV owner (since 2019) who has a second EV reserved, here are a few points the "I road trip 1000 miles every day" crowd won't tell you about:[list][*]When you have a convenient charging situation, EV fueling is more convenient than a gas car. There is no stopping at gas stations and you start every day with a full tank.[/*][*]Where there are no-idling rules (school pickup/dropoff, lines for ferries or services, city loading, whatever else) you can keep warm or cool to your heart's content in your EV.[/*][*]In the cold, EVs will give you heat from the second you turn them on.[/*][*]EVs don't care one bit if you use them for tons of very short trips. Their mechanicals don't need to boil off condensation. (Just tonight, I used my EV to drive six blocks, because it was 31 degrees and raining, and walking would have been unpleasant.)[/*][*]EVs don't stink and don't make you breathe carcinogens on cold start.[/*][*]EV maintenance is much less frequent and much cheaper, eliminating almost all items having to do with engine, transmission, or brakes in a gas car. In most EVs the maintenance schedule consists of battery coolant changes and tire maintenance.[/*][*]You can accelerate fast in EVs without noisily attracting the attention of the cops and every passerby on the street.[/*][/list]
  • MaintenanceCosts Still can't get a RAV4 Prime for love or money. Availability of normal hybrid RAV4s and Highlanders is only slightly better. At least around here I think Toyota could sell twice the number of vehicles that they are actually bringing in at the moment.
  • Tree Trunk Been in the market for a new Highlander Hybrid, it is sold out with order time of 6 months plus. Probably would have bit the bullet if it was not for the dealers the refuse to take an order but instead want to sell from allotment whether it fits or not and at thousands over MRSP.
  • AKHusky The expense argument is nonsense. My mach e was $42k after tax credit. Basically the same as similarly equipped edge. And it completely ignores that the best selling vehicles are Rams, F150s, and Silverados, all more expensive that a bolt, MAch e or ID4. As an owner, I'd say they are still in second car territory for most places in the country.
  • Johnster I live in a red state and I see quite a few EVs being purchased by conservative, upper-class Republicans (many of them Trump-supporters). I suspect that it is a way for them to flaunt their wealth and that, over time, the preference for EVs will trickle down to less well-off Republicans.