Development & Education

Further shutdowns at Toyota plants

By Clark Boyd

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Toyota said Wednesday it will suspend production at some of its plants in Europe for eight days over the next two months. Toyota has already announced similar shutdowns at some of its US plants. The problem is a shortage of parts from Japan, where production has been severely limited in the weeks after the earthquake and tsunami.

The European plants that will be affected, in late April and May, are in Britain, Turkey, France and Poland. Jean-Yves Jault, a spokesman at Toyota's European corporate headquarters in Brussels, said Wednesday that Toyota will also probably slow production in May.

"Beyond that, I cannot say anything because we are assessing the situation literally
day by day," Jault said.

Jault said the European shutdowns may mean that cars could be delayed a month in reaching consumers.

Like Toyota plants in North America, Toyota's European facilities are supplied with parts from Japanese factories. And many of those factories are on hold, said Paul Nieuwenhuis, director of the Center for Automotive research at Cardiff Business School in Wales.

"In Japan, a lot of factories have been knocked out, through lack of power," Nieuwenhuis said. "And some of the smaller factories feeding into these factories have disappeared [following the tsunami].

It usually takes three to four weeks for those parts to get here by ship. Now, a month on from the earthquake and tsunami, the parts pipeline is running dry, according to Nieuwenhuis.

"Toyota uses a just-in-time system, so there's not a lot of slack. Once you stop that supply of parts in the pipeline, it doesn't take very long for all the plants around the world to be affected," he said.

Toyota's not alone. Honda and Nissan are experiencing similar problems. Daimler, the maker of Mercedes-Benz, said the company couldn't rule out supply-chain disruptions either. General Motors sources many of its parts from Japan as well.

All of them, Nieuwenhuis said, are scrambling.

"They'll try and re-source some parts from other locations," Nieuwenhuis said. "But everybody's going to be doing that at the same time. So then you get capacity constraints. A lot of suppliers that could make certain parts are already constrained because they're working at full capacity for other manufacturers."

Analysts say that it may take months before Toyota and other Japanese car makers are able to return to full production.