Dearth of Japanese cars, parts anticipated

Posted 5/2/11

Prospective automobile buyers may have a hard time finding their desired models this spring and summer as a direct result of the natural disasters in …

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Dearth of Japanese cars, parts anticipated


Prospective automobile buyers may have a hard time finding their desired models this spring and summer as a direct result of the natural disasters in Japan.

Most Japanese manufacturing plants are only just now reopening following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the nation March 11. Factories that are producing vehicles and parts are generally operating at a slashed percentage of normal capacity.

The shortage comes at a bad time for American automotive dealers, which typically enjoy high sales rates from May through September.

Hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight will be the hardest to come by, as they are assembled exclusively in Japanese factories.

“Those are the ones that are hurt the most,” said Doug Thorne, new car sales manager at Kuni Honda in Centennial.

The hybrid cars, however, only comprise a small percentage of sales, Thorne said.

Rising gas prices will play another factor in vehicle availability. Fuel-efficient models will be in high demand as gas approaches $4 a gallon, though many dealers believe their current stock will see them through the manufacturing slowdown in Japan.

“We think we might make it,” said Jason Krawczyk, new car sales manager at Go Nissan Southwest in Littleton. “We are going to run low on (Nissan) Versas and Sentras.”

Consumers can expect to pay more for vehicles that are in short supply.

“But I’m certainly not going to gouge customers because there’s a shortage,” Thorne said.

The small supply of some vehicles will be the first effect American consumers notice. A lack of Japanese-made car parts will follow shortly after.

Local dealerships reported that they weren’t too concerned about having enough parts to perform routine repairs. Honda, for instance, utilizes a nationwide network to locate needed materials. If a part can’t be found in Colorado, it can be shipped in from elsewhere.

“They do everything they can to make sure the customer can get their car fixed,” Thorne said.

The dearth of parts will also affect production plants in North America. Without the needed materials to assemble vehicles, factories in Canada and the United States won’t be able to meet their normal quotas.

Toyota announced April 19 it is adjusting the hours of its North American manufacturing plants throughout May. All factories will operate at 50 percent capacity on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday until June 3. The company had already suspended plant operations on Monday and Friday, which will continue.

Additionally, Toyota factories will be closed the week of May 23-27 in Canada and May 30 to June 3 in the U.S.

Other Japanese automotive companies, including Nissan, Honda, Mazda and Subaru, have taken similar steps in recent weeks to account for a limited supply of materials.  Honda and Mazda stopped taking orders for U.S. models made in Japan.

Most local dealerships have yet to feel the effects of the looming shortages, but they are preparing for impact within 30 to 60 days.

“We’re bracing for it a little bit, but Japan’s a resilient country,” Krawczyk said.

Dealers aren’t sure when the Japanese factories will again be running at full capacity, but the shortage isn’t anticipated to last past this fall. Toyota has reported it expects its global production to be back to normal by November or December. Some companies are already ramping up their manufacturing in the regions of Japan least affected by the natural disasters.

“They’re getting back, but no one really knows how long until they get back to 100 percent,” Thorne said.


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