As you might have noticed, we have been focused on the after-effects of the Japan ‘quake this week. So we apologise to the reader who wrote in today griping about the fact we had overlooked to cover the self-darkening roof due to hit the public on a new Mercedes tomorrow…
As of this morning (Friday 25 March), over 10,000 people have now been confirmed dead in the north east Japan earthquake and tsunami with about as many still missing. The continuing flow of videos and photos from the affected areas shows extraordinary damage which will take years to put right, if some towns are ever rebuilt at all, though the ‘Big Picture’ view suggests most of Japan is still continuing to function, albeit with nuclear radiation, food, water and electricity supply worries likely to continue for some time yet.
IHS Global Insight’s analysts have been right on the ball this week with two excellent summaries to date – here and here – and we have grouped all our coverage to date as a Hot Issue as well as running a daily update.
The picture that has emerged this week is that automakers with factories and/or suppliers in the ‘quake zone have had difficulty building many complete cars and there has also been some production of parts for vehicle production, mostly overseas, and for the replacement market. But you get the impression automakers are struggling; Nissan, for instance, is considering schlepping V6 engines made in Tennessee to Japan to replace those normally sourced from a plant in the ‘quake zone and Toyota has postponed the launch of its expanded Prius hybrid line. And Honda has put back its recruitment process for the April ’12 employee intake.
So far, with relatively minor glitches, some finished vehicle output in Japan and most overseas will be possible using parts stock on hand and in transit from Japan. The big question, as IHS Global noted yesterday, is what happens about six weeks out from ‘quake day if the various makers of Japan-supplied parts, from chips to hybrid batteries, haven’t made some temporary arrangements.
You only have to look at the state of some towns and cities to imagine the challenge facing production and human resources managers; it might be possible to get a slightly damaged plant – Honda’s Tochigi faciliites come to mind – back on line quite quickly but did the experienced workers survive and, if so, have they family deaths and injuries to deal with; accommodation, food, water, transport, petrol? We’ve seen estimates of at least a five-year recovery period and that looks realistic.
Further out, it’s becoming clear some aspects of how the globally linked supply chain and associated just-in-time parts production currently works – and vulnerability to natural disasters – will come under close scrutiny as will nuclear production of the electricity every plant and its workers need. The industry in Japan is nowhere near started on much of what needs to be done.
Elsewhere in autoland, a British van plant long braced for the axe got a welcome reprieve from GM yesterday, Fiat was eyeball to eyeball with the FIOM union again and Toyota restructured its European operations.
just-auto will be a bit short of new items today, for which we apologise, but we (including our parent company Aroq and sister sites just-drinks, just-style and just-food) are off soon for our annual staff AGM and postponed (by December’s record snow) ‘Christmas curry’. We trust you’ll cut us some slack, just this once.
Have a nice weekend.
Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com