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Carmakers shutdown plants after Japan earthquake

Several car manufacturers have suspended production in their Japanese plants following the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan recently.  The list includes Toyota Motor Corp, Honda Motor Corp, Nissan Motor Corp and Subaru.  Meanwhile, employees of foreign car companies in Japan like BMW are also being temporarily sent back to their home countries. 

According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, the massive earthquake struck Japan at 2:46 p.m. local time off the coast of Sendai, and north of the capital.  The tremor also triggered a tsunami that flooded coastal areas. Several TV footages showed cars, trucks and even large cargo ships being washed down the flood zones and brought inland.

It has been previously reported that at least one person died at Honda’s R&D facility, and there have been fires that erupted at two Nissan plants.  There have also been limited and weak phone coverage in the quake zone, which makes it harder for the companies to have a clearer picture of the extent of the damage.  As of yet, Japanese authorities in Northern Japan are in the process of sifting through the wreckage and tallying the death tolls and property damage.

This natural disaster resulting in these massive shutdowns could have an effect to the United States, because many car models intended for the U.S. market are produced in Japan like the Toyota Yaris sedan, Scion XB and Scion XB, and the Honda Fit subcompact vehicle.

Big Hit on Toyota

Toyota, which is currently the world’s largest automaker, announced that it has evacuated workers from several factories within the quake zone.  Toyota has two production plants assembling auto parts in Northern Japan.  Moreover, its parts affiliates, Kanto Auto Works, Ltd. and Central Motors Co., also have assembly plants in that region.  According to Toyota’s spokesperson Dion Corbett,  the status of the plants are currently being evaluated, and they are still “trying to get information from them.”

Toyota has unsurprisingly a large manufacturing presence in Japan, particularly in the northern regions.  The company has had plans to make northern Japan a center for small car production.  Last January, its affiliate, Central Motors, opened an assembly plant an hour away from Sendai, which is one of the most affected areas.  That plant, which has a capacity of producing around 120,000 vehicles, produces the Yaris, Toyota’s compact car model that is being exported to the U.S.  Another Toyota affiliate, Kanto Auto Works, has another assembly plant in the nearby prefecture of Iwate.  This plant also makes compact cars, including the Yaris, Scion xB and Scion xD. 

Meanwhile, Toyota’s plants near the company’s headquarter in Toyota City, which is in Central Japan, had resumed operations after a few brief shutdowns.  There were also no reported injuries; however, the company is still checking for any possible damage.

Even some of Toyota’s suppliers suffered similar fates.  Tota Boshoku Corp., and Denso Corp., which are two of Toyota’s biggest parts suppliers, were both reported to have suffered some plant damage.

Other Carmakers

In other reports, Honda has shutdown two assembly plants immediately after the earthquake.  Honda’s Sayama plant in the northern part of Tokyo and closer to the epicenter remains closed. Honda’s spokesperson Yamamoto, mentioned that Honda’s Japanese headquarters were having difficulties in contacting their plants, including the Sayama plant, which produces U.S. bound models, which includes the Fit small car, the Accord sedan, the CR-V crossover, as well as the Acura RL and Acura TSX.  The company is still unsure about when the production would resume.

Honda has also announced that it would close its R&D centers in Sayama and Suzuka factories temporarily.  At Honda’s R&D Center in the Tochigi prefecture, one person has died and 30 were injured following the earthquake when a wall was toppled at the center’s cafeteria.  Other than these, no other injuries were reported.  Meanwhile, Honda’s plants in Central Japan, like Toyota soon re-started production.

Nissan Motor Co. also suspended operations in their plants located in Eastern Japan.  There were small fires that broke out at two of the company’s assembly plants, including a factory that produces the Infiniti M sedan and GT-R sports car.  The fires were extinguished immediately.  Still, Nissan has evacuated employees from its technology center just south of Tokyo when the power was cut-off in that area.  Nissan said that some plants would remain closed temporarily, and the company will decide when production can be safely resumed, following an assessment of the damage brought about by the earthquake.

Meanwhile, Subaru  maker Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. also closed five factories, according to spokesperson Kenta Matsumoto.

Truck maker Volvo AB was among those hit the worst, with its main production in Japan forced into suspension.  The Swedish company, who is among the world’s leading truck makers, said that the damage to its facilities in Ageo in Sou

theasten Japan was mainly superficial, but it will take several days before the company can have a full assessment of the damage.  Volvo employs 10,000 people in Japan for their production plants and with an additional 3,000 in the dealerships.  Volvo also mentioned that the dealership at Sendai had serious damages, but that the total effect on dealerships are yet to be determined.

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