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Planning for trouble

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Toyota is asking 400 North American suppliers to detail their disaster plans in an effort to minimize the harm and duration of future production shutdowns.

Other automakers and suppliers might benefit by benchmarking their approaches to Toyota's contingency planning.

The entire auto industry had to rethink global supply chains after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan.

Beyond the enormous damage to plants and infrastructure, the tsunami revealed surprising vulnerabilities -- such as the fact that however many paint suppliers an automaker had, they all sourced certain pigments from a single plant.

Supply-chain specialists also learned from subsequent crises -- such as the Evonik Industries' plant shutdown that pinched supplies of nylon 12, used in many auto parts.

Beyond compiling a list of subsuppliers, Toyota's North American program is limited. Toyota doesn't ask suppliers to reserve excess capacity, add safety stock or even reveal subsuppliers if the supplier considers that information proprietary. Toyota relies on its suppliers to know their own vulnerabilities and how to recover.

Virtually all automakers and suppliers have contingency plans, but it is always a good idea to review them and compare notes with others.

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