Power, parts shortages hamper Japan manufacturers
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 9:09 AM
TOKYO -- Three of Japan's biggest global brands - Toyota, Sony and Honda - said Tuesday they will further delay a return to normal production due to shortages of parts and power after the March 11 quake.
The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami forced the closure of 11 of Japan's 54 nuclear power plants and damaged factories belonging to producers of auto parts, electronics components and industrial materials.
Toyota Motor Corp., the world's biggest car maker, and rival Honda Motor Co. said they have extended their shutdown of auto production in Japan to the weekend because of parts and power shortages. Toyota has lost production of about 140,000 vehicles since March 14.
Sony Corp. said operations at five plants in Shizuoka, Aichi, Gifu and Oita were suspended until the end of March. Those factories make broadcast equipment, camcorders, digital cameras, lenses for digital single-lens reflex cameras, cell phones, LCD TVs, microphones and headphones.
The effects are being felt across Asia, from Thailand to South Korea to Taiwan, as manufacturers who rely on imported Japanese semiconductors, auto parts, steel, LCD television panels and chemicals watch inventories dwindle.
Japanese manufacturers are expected to rebound once they restart production following the quake and tsunami that likely killed at least 18,000 people in the northeast. But analysts say they might be hampered by power shortages, damage to roads and overseas customers switching to new suppliers.
In South Korea and elsewhere, concern is growing that reliance on Japanese imports will prove a big headache for industry.
"Chances are growing that supply disruptions will not end within one to two months," analysts at Hyundai Securities said in a report. "If supply disruptions are prolonged, Korean companies that rely heavily on materials and components imported from Japan ... will likely see severe production setbacks."
Toyota's shutdown of 11 factories was extended until Saturday because of difficulty securing components, including rubber parts and electronics, the maker of the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models said.
The shutdown had previously been announced through Tuesday. Toyota resumed repair parts production last week and said that was still under way.
Automakers are scrambling to find alternative parts suppliers to replace those disabled by the quake. The disaster-stricken northeast is home mostly to tertiary parts-makers - the tiny machine shops that make parts for secondary and other suppliers.
Honda said its production halt would continue through Sunday. The extended shutdown affects vehicle production at its Saitama and Suzuka factories and motorcycles at its Kumamoto factory. It had previously announced the shutdown through Wednesday.
The announcement from Sony, a world leader in consumer electronics and entertainment, provided a mixed picture.
It said it was resuming operations at some plants, including a factory in Tochigi prefecture that manufactures high-power lithium ion batteries, A separate factory in Tochigi resumed partial operations on March 15, four days after the quake. A plant in Saitama, north of Tokyo, resumed full production on the same day.
Intermittent operations were to resume Tuesday at a plant in Chiba that manufactures Blu-ray disc recorders and home audio systems, depending on the availability of power.
Inspections and repairs were under way but operations were still suspended at plants in prefectures hardest-hit by the earthquake: Miyagi, which suffered the vast majority of deaths, and Fukushima, where a nuclear complex began leaking radiation after it was severely damaged.