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Business

Big Japan manufacturers halt output as quake cuts parts supply

Aisin Seiki has suspended production in Kumamoto.

NAGOYA -- Toyota Motor will suspend domestic car production in stages through Saturday after earthquakes that hit the southwestern Japanese island of Kyushu disrupted the automaker's supply chain.

     Key Toyota supplier Aisin Seiki has been forced to stop producing doors, engines and other parts at its subsidiary in Kumamoto Prefecture. The area is still experiencing aftershocks, hampering attempts to resume operations or make alternative arrangements.

Plant shutdowns

Toyota Motor Kyushu will halt production Monday through Friday. The automaker's Tsutsumi plant, an Aichi Prefecture site that makes Prius hybrids, will suspend production starting Tuesday. All lines at the Tahara plant, also in Aichi, will be halted by Wednesday. Several facilities in the northeastern Tohoku region will suspend work from Friday. All major assembly lines directly operated by the parent company will be shut down from Wednesday through Saturday. 

     The closures are expected to dent total output by about 50,000 vehicles. Toyota plans to decide by Wednesday whether to bring any facilities back online April 25.

     Toyota also was forced to halt domestic production in February after an accident at a group company, which affected the delivery of roughly 90,000 vehicles. The automaker had planned to make up for the delay by summer but now will face an even greater challenge.

Manufacturers, retailers share the pain

Toyota and other Japanese manufacturers have worked to strengthen their supply chains, such as by cultivating several suppliers and retaining larger inventories, after facing production disruptions following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

     Some companies are using the experiences gleaned in 2011. Renesas Electronics, which produces microcontrollers, halted operations Thursday at a major plant in Kumamoto. It will consider alternative production options if the suspension drags on.

     One of the company's key facilities in Ibaraki Prefecture shut down for nearly three months following the 2011 earthquake, wreaking havoc on production at many automakers. Renesas has been improving emergency response measures since. The company has been unable to fully assess its damage and has yet to determine when production will resume, but its inventory levels are higher than in 2011, making it easier to maintain a stable supply.

     Sony on Thursday halted work at a Kumamoto plant, its main production facility for image sensors used in cameras and smartphones. The company began preparing the next day to resume operations, but a second major quake early Saturday threw a wrench into those plans.

     Retailers and restaurants also have been affected. Aeon did not open 27 group supermarkets and other outlets in Kumamoto and Oita prefectures Sunday. It has been selling food and water in the parking lot of several stores since Saturday.

     Convenience store chain Lawson kept about 30% of its 141 Kumamoto locations closed Sunday. This is down from 80 that remained shut the day before, but half of the stores are still unable to operate at night.

(Nikkei)

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