By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – Toyota, Honda and Nissan halted production in Japan for most of the week after a devastating earthquake and tsunami. But all three build most of their U.S.-sold cars in North America, so Americans shouldn’t see a shortage.
The companies are suspending production to assess damage to plants, ports and roads following the natural disaster, which was centered in northern Japan, killing thousands, destroying towns and wrecking the infrastructure of the world’s second-largest auto producer.
U.S. supply of some fuel-efficient cars such as the Toyota Prius hybrid, Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit, may be affected because they are built exclusively in Japan and could become more desirable if U.S. gasoline prices reach $4 per gallon.
“There could be some issues where customers don’t get the exact vehicle that they want,” said Jessica Caldwell, an automotive analyst with auto website Edmunds.com. “But I would say it doesn’t look like the inventory situation right now looks dire.”
Top U.S. sellers such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima – all sedans – are made in North America. Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson said he expects the companies “to maintain adequate inventory for most vehicles.”
Japan made nearly 7.9 million vehicles in 2009, or about 13 percent of the 61.7 million vehicles produced worldwide that year, according to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers. The U.S. is its largest market, taking in 1.2 million Japanese vehicle imports, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.
In Japan, Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s biggest automaker, said it was shutting down production at its 12 wholly-owned factories through Wednesday and also suspending factories that it partly owns. The closures are expected to affect production of about 40,000 vehicles.
Closures include a plant that builds the Yaris subcompact, and another that makes the Scion xB and xD, two small cars popular with young drivers.
Toyota spokesman Javier Moreno said the company has a bigger supply of the Prius because of recent incentives to promote “eco-friendly” cars. “We expect that the impact from the shutdown will be minimal,” he said.
Nissan Motor Corp. said it will shut down production at four Japanese plants until Wednesday and will suspend production at two plants until Friday. Nissan said some of its luxury Infiniti models and Nissan GTR and 370Z could be delayed reaching the U.S.
About 1,300 Nissan vehicles bound for the U.S. were damaged at Japan’s Port of Hitachi in Ibaraki prefecture along with 1,000 vehicles being stored at a service center in Miyagi, the company said.
Rebecca Lindland, director of strategic review at consulting firm IHS Automotive, noted that shipping vehicles from Japan to the U.S. can take weeks. “So it’s not likely if you were expecting delivery this week or next that you’d be impacted. It’s the people that are four, six and eight weeks out that (are) going to see a delay in that delivery process.”
A shipment of more than 600 U.S.-bound Nissan Leaf electric cars left Japan on March 10, just before the earthquake, and the company said the cars will arrive on schedule. Nissan said it will continue to assess any impact on Leaf supply.
Honda Motor Co. said it was suspending production at six Japanese plants through the end of the week, along with a research and development center and an engineering office in Tochigi. About 80 percent of the vehicles Honda sells in the U.S. are built in North America.
Honda spokesman Ron Lietzke said U.S. market versions of the Honda Fit, Insight hybrid, Civic hybrid and CR-Z hybrid are all built exclusively in the Japanese plants, along with the Acura TSX and RL.