Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Report: Japan will affect all automakers

Alisa Priddle / The Detroit News

Every major automaker will be affected by the disaster in Japan by mid-to-late April, according to a report released today by automotive forecasters IHS Global Insight of Northville.
"It is not a matter of if, but when," said Michael Robinet, director of Automotive Forecast, in an analysis of the impact on the auto industry of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in northern Japan. The damage halted domestic vehicle production and affected the supply chain, which is causing disruptions at plants around the world that rely on Japanese-sourced parts.

The IHS analysis concluded that light vehicle output in Japan is expected to be impacted by about 335,000 vehicles by Friday and that figure could be in the 450,000 range by the end of March. That is based on a loss of about 37,000 cars and trucks a day if all Japanese assembly plants are affected.

Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. are gingerly resuming production of components for overseas plants and hope to restart vehicle assembly plans in Japan later this week.

Some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles offered by Japanese automakers are only built in Japan. As supplies diminish of vehicles such as the Toyota Prius hybrid, average transaction prices for some models are starting to creep up and incentives are likely to evaporate, said Aaron Bragman, IHS automotive analyst, in a separate report also released today.

TrueCar.com says prices of Japanese models in the U.S. are rising already, with the Prius up $169 per vehicle, on average, in the past week in response to the supply crunch, Bragman notes.

"If the supply of imported Japanese fuel-efficient vehicles cannot be restored quickly, an opportunity may arise for well-placed competitors to start stealing U.S. market share from Japanese automakers," Bragman said.

Among the well-situated is Ford Motor Co., which has made fuel-efficiency a priority and has a number of new models that get 40 miles per gallon. General Motors Co. also has new small vehicles as well as the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. Hyundai Motor Co. also has a lineup of strong contenders.

"The initial estimates are that this could be a protracted shutdown of the Japanese industry," Bragman said. In addition to issues with vehicle production and parts supply, there are rolling blackouts because of damage to the electric power grid and a nuclear disaster in addition to other infrastructure damage as well as port and shipping issues and the loss of workers.

Robinet said it could take seven weeks of full production, with overtime, at a facility to make up for one week of lost production.

But competitors will only be able to fill any voids created by a shortage of Japanese models if they have the parts to keep their own assembly lines running as well.

So far, lost volume outside Japan is only about 10,000 vehicles, according to Robinet. That includes General Motors Co.'s truck plant in Shreveport, La., which suspended work because of parts shortages.

The Japanese-made components most affected include semi-conductors, integrated circuits, sensors and LCD displays, but IHS said shortages also may be felt in resins and synthetic rubber in the next few weeks. And the quake zone is home to powertrain parts such as gears and clutch components. Specialty materials such as silicon and certain types of glass and metals could also run short, Robinet forecasts.


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