Toyota to gradually resume Japan production after deadly earthquake

The earthquake hit the Japanese island of Hokkaido early Thursday. Photo credit: Reuters

TOKYO -- Toyota plans to gradually restart production in Japan on Tuesday and be back to normal output on Thursday after it suspended almost all vehicle assembly in its home market following a deadly earthquake in northern Japan that triggered widespread blackouts.

Toyota and its affiliates will resume work at select lines across several plants in Japan on Tuesday, including those that make parts for overseas production, the company said on Monday.

The remaining lines should be up starting Thursday, the company said.

Toyota spokesman Jean-Yves Jault said the company is still evaluating whether the Japan suspension will have any impact on production in North American or elsewhere overseas.

Toyota said late last week it would halt almost all auto production in Japan because power outages left one of its factories and those of suppliers in the dark.

The earthquake hit the northernmost island of Hokkaido early Thursday, killing a reported 44 people and leaving the entire island – an area the size of the state of Indiana, with more than 5 million people – without power. Authorities worked over the weekend to restore electricity.

The blackouts hit Toyota’s supply line. The automaker has a plant in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, that makes automatic transmissions, continuously variable transmissions and transfer cases.

That plant was expected to resume operation on Monday.

But Toyota also sources parts from two key suppliers in the region that also lost power.

Denso, Toyota’s biggest supplier, has a plant in Chitose, Hokkaido that makes electronics parts such as semiconductor sensors. A Denso spokesman said it resumed partial operation on Monday, but Denso could not say when it would be restored to normal output.

Meanwhile, Aisin Seiki, another Toyota Group mainstay, had three Hokkaido factories knocked out. Those plants, which did not sustain serious damage, make water pumps, timing chain case covers and belts for continuously variable transmissions, among other components.

Aisin restarted one of the plants over the weekend and was expected to bring the others back online either Monday or Tuesday, a company spokesman said.

Toyota’s operations in Japan churn out an average of 13,000 cars a day, and the automaker is expected to have lost at least that much output through its partial shutdown.

Nissan did not experience any production interruptions from the quake because it has no manufacturing facilities in Hokkaido. Nissan does have a proving ground there, however, and operations there were temporarily suspended due to the power outage.

Honda was operating as normal on Monday.

Spokesman Teruhiko Tatebe said there was some minor damage at suppliers but added that Honda was able to maintain steady production due to sufficient stock of parts.

Toyota said it also had enough parts inventory to keep operating after the quake, at least in the initial days. But it opted to suspend operations nationwide in order to maintain a balanced inventory and because the outlook for restoring power in Hokkaido was unclear.

“In that case, TPS [Toyota Production System] principles guide us to stop all the lines and check and visualize the problem and consider countermeasures,” Jault said. “This would also lead to a smoother re-start afterwards.”

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com -- Follow Hans on Twitter: @hansgreimel

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