Famous last words. This is what I wrote in this column just a smidge over seven days ago: “At 16:00GMT, it appears that disruption to the auto industry is going to be pretty minimal.” Yeah, right.
I don’t have to tell you, particularly if you are responsible for getting parts onto an assembly line, into a KD kit, or onto dealers’ spare parts shelves, that the effects of the tragic quake/tsunami double-whammy in Japan – we’ve grouped our many reports in a one-stop location here (and have also been running daily bulletins like this) – have continued to ripple out all week and will continue to do so for some weeks to come. Who makes one fifth of the world’s computer chips? Japan. Where does GM’s Chevy Volt transmission come from? Japan? Whose JATCO transmission plant’s been down since the quake with no resumption date yet in sight? Nissan’s. And so it goes.
That said, the word ‘minimal’, in the big-picture sense, has nonetheless been used by others, including a senior Nissan executive talking about the effect on overseas production but even he could only really look ahead about six weeks which seems to be the rule-of-thumb for stocks in inventory and on the ocean for the foreign outposts. GM Europe’s Opel is also taking a similar optimistic but cautious view.
The global supply chain is vast and there are multiple sources for most bits from ‘chip’ to lug nut. But changing supplier, even temporarily, is not a one-phone-call job. And, even if you are dual, or multi-sourcing, the same part, if one supplier is in ruins, do the others have enough capacity to instantly ramp up to the volume you need to keep your lines running? It’s a question that will occupy many minds in the coming weeks, and months.
As will, as our resident economist and managing editor Dave Leggett noted today, the value of the yen.
The ‘quake and tsunami certainly stopped a large number of Japanese assembly plants in their tracks and analysts IHS were quick off the mark to assess the situation and predict some of the effects. We’ll be hearing more on this for quite a while yet.
Away from Japan, business editor Simon Warburton was back on Renault’s case, reporting on latest developments in the extraordinary ‘spy scandal’. If you missed other earlier developments, you’ll find them here.
And, finally, we learned of a change of guard in the top job at Opel/Vauxhall.
Have a nice weekend.
Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com