Japan's automaker slowdown will spread, report warns
A Toyota Yaris compact sedans lie damaged at Sendai port, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on March 15, 2011. (AP / Koji Sasahara)
Japanese automakers are just one of the industries affected by the earthquake and tsunami that struck the island nation this month, potentially leading to longer waits for some new car buyers. But a new study says the prospect of an auto parts supply disruption could have even more far-reaching implications.
In its Global Auto Report released Tuesday, Scotia Economics notes that Japanese vehicle production shutdowns in the two weeks following the crippling natural disasters that struck off the country's northeast coast on March 11 have amounted to a cumulative loss of almost 400,000 units, or approximately 14 per cent of global output.
Although few of Japan's car assembly plants were directly affected by the quake or tsunami, they have been hamstrung by the subsequent countrywide water shortages and rotating power outages. And while the country struggles to cope with the devastating aftermath of the twin disasters, including the ongoing crisis at a damaged nuclear power plant, experts believe it could be late summer before Japan's automakers can kick back into gear.
Even then, it could be several weeks, if not months, before the new run of parts are flowing through the supply chain again.
Considering that Japanese automakers produce 1.3 vehicles outside Japan for every one they manufacture domestically, the report warns that as the closures spread, the impact on the global industry could be severe.
Already the effects are rippling around the world, as shortages of key automotive parts have spread from Japan and caused, for example, Toyota to halt overtime operations at its 14 North America plants.
Scotia Economics Senior Economist Carlos Gomes says a domino effect is inevitable considering that Japan is both the world's second-largest vehicle manufacturer and second-largest auto parts exporter, with many of those suppliers located in the stricken northeastern region of Japan.
"The major risk to the global auto industry, including non-Japanese automakers, lies in the potential for auto parts shortages globally and its impact on the global supply chain, due to delays in the resumption of component deliveries by Japanese suppliers," Gomes said in a statement.
Besides electronic components, Gomes points out that other components sourced from the region can't be found anywhere else.
Supplies of a shiny, patented pigment called Xirallic, for example, are running short due to damage at the one plant that produces it. As a result, Ford and Chrysler have already announced they will stop offering certain shades of paint to new car buyers.
The North American automobile industry should weather the storm better than some other markets, however, as 80 per cent of the approximately 3,000 parts used to assemble the average vehicle in Canada and the U.S. are made domestically.
Instead, the report warns that the impact will be the greatest in Asia, with Thailand topping the list.
"In fact, Japan accounts for more than 57 per cent of all auto parts destined to Thailand -- a nation that produced 1.6 million cars and trucks last year, a level rapidly approaching the 2 million units assembled in Canada last year," Scotia Economics wrote in a statement announcing the report.
Taiwan, the Philippines and China also source more 40 per cent of their total auto parts imports from Japan.
Because modern vehicle assembly has largely shifted to a just-in-time parts delivery model, the extent of the effects will depend on how many parts each manufacturer has in stock.
The lack of new shipments should emerge by mid-April, after the slow-moving cargo vessels shipping the last pre-quake supplies have arrived at their destinations.