TOKYO -- Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., Japan's second-biggest auto maker, said on Thursday it would suspend operations at three of its four domestic plants for five days each this month and next due to a shortage of steel.
The plants would normally produce about 25,000 vehicles over five days, including the newly released Tiida compact car and the Lafesta minivan, which is expected to go on sale next month.
Nissan, 44 percent owned by French car maker Renault, will halt work at one of two lines at its Fukuoka plant in southwestern Japan and will completely stop production at its Oppama plant in Kanagawa prefecture and the Nissan Shatai Co. Ltd. Shonan assembly plant, also in Kanagawa.
The plants will stop operations on Nov. 29 and 30 and on Dec. 6-8. The company said it planned to make up for the stoppages in January or later by opening the affected factories on days when they were scheduled to be closed.
"We didn't foresee this much demand," a Nissan spokeswoman said, adding the problem arose after the roll-out of a string of models since September, when it unveiled six new cars to be launched before mid-January.
Nissan, the world's most profitable car maker measured by profit margin, had vowed to sell 3.6 million units in the 12 months to September 2005, 1 million more vehicles than it sold in fiscal 2001.
While factories in Japan are sometimes shut due to storms or earthquakes, it is rare to close because of a lack of materials.
Nissan gets its steel from Nippon Steel Corp. and JFE Steel Corp., a unit of JFE Holdings Inc., but both companies have been operating at full capacity to meet strong demand for steel sheets and other materials, both at home and in booming China.
"Japanese steel makers give a top priority to demand from the auto industry," Shinko Securities analyst Nobuyuki Tsuji said. "Steel supply is that tight if auto makers fall short of it."
Tsuji added a shortage of steel would likely affect other car manufacturers as well as other industries, considering the current supply-demand balance.
Nippon Steel, which supplies to other auto makers such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. as well, said it was trying its best to meet strong steel demand, but added it normally took several years to increase output capacity.
Toyota, the world's second-largest auto maker, said steel supply was tight, but added it was trying to make steel procurement and usage more efficient so it would not have to shut down plants.