TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Subaru suspended production at plants in Japan today and were assessing damage after an 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast, triggering a tsunami and shaking buildings as far away as Tokyo.
The shutdown could affect exports to the United States of such cars as the Toyota Yaris sedan, Scion XB and Scion XD, as well as the Honda Fit subcompact, Accord sedan and CR-V crossover. The temblor also affected production of the Acura and Infiniti lineups.
Toyota, the world's largest carmaker, said it evacuated workers from several factories in the quake zone. Toyota has two parts plants in northern Japan and two affiliates, Kanto Auto Works Ltd. and Central Motors Co., that assemble small cars in the region.
The status of those plants was being evaluated, Toyota spokesman Dion Corbett said. "We are still trying to get information from them," he said.
At least one person died at Honda's r&d facility, and fires erupted at two Nissan plants.
Spotty phone coverage in the quake zone made it difficult for companies to get a clear picture of the extent of the damage. Authorities in northern Japan were beginning to sift through the region's wreckage and tally the death toll when darkness fell.
The quake struck at 2:46 p.m. local time off the coast of Sendai north of the capital, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. The tremor also triggered a tsunami that flooded coastal areas. TV footage showed cars being washed down flood zones like toys and large capsized cargo ships tossed sideways, jumbled together and pushed inland.
The main airport in Sendai was transformed into an island surrounded by flood plains.
Aftershocks, many strong, rocked the region for hours afterward.
Toyota is one of the few Japanese automakers with a large manufacturing presence in northern Japan, a region it wants to make a center for small car production. In January, its Central Motors affiliate opened an assembly plant just an hour's drive from Sendai. That plant, with a capacity of 120,000 vehicles, makes the Yaris small car for export to the United States.
Toyota's Kanto Auto Works affiliate has another assembly plant in the neighboring prefecture of Iwate. That plant also makes small cars, including the Yaris sedan, Scion xB and Scion xD. The Toyota parent company also has two parts plants in the region.
Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said it is not clear yet if U.S.-bound Scions are impacted by the situation.
"As for production from here out, we will make a decision after we get a handle on the situation," Corbett said, about when the northern plants would reopen.
Toyota plants near the company's headquarters in Toyota City, in central Japan, had resumed normal production after brief shutdowns, Corbett said. There were no reports of injuries from those factories. Possible damage was still being assessed.
Death at Honda; fires at Nissan
Toyota also was confirming damage at its suppliers. Toyota Boshoku Corp. and Denso Corp., two of Toyota's biggest parts makers, both were said to have suffered some plant damage.
Honda shut down two assembly plants immediately after the temblor, spokesman Keitaro Yamamoto said. Honda's Suzuka plant in central Japan soon resumed production.
But the company's Sayama plant, north of Tokyo and closer to the epicenter, remained closed late Friday evening. Yamamoto said Honda headquarters was having difficulty contacting its plants. The Sayama plant makes several U.S.-bound models.
It sends the Fit small car, Accord sedan and the CR-V crossover to the United States, as well as the Acura RL and Acura TSX, Yamamoto said.
The company was unsure when production would resume. But Honda would close its r&d center and the Sayama and Suzuka factories at least through Monday, Yamamoto said.
At Honda's r&d center in Tochigi prefecture, one person died and 30 were injured when the quake toppled a wall at the center's cafeteria. No other injuries were reported.
Nissan Motor Co. also suspended operations at factories throughout eastern Japan. Small fires broke out at two assembly plants, including the factory producing the Infiniti M sedan and GT-R sports car. They were quickly extinguished, the company said.
The company also evacuated employees from its technology center south of Tokyo after the power was cut off there.
Nissan said plants would stay closed over the weekend. It will decide whether to resume production on Monday after assessing the quake damage.
Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the maker of Subaru cars, closed five factories, said Kenta Matsumoto, a spokesman for the Tokyo-based company.
Truck maker Volvo AB was also among those worst hit as its main production operation in Japan was forced to suspend output.
The Swedish company, among the world's leading truck makers, said damage to its UD Trucks facilities in Ageo in southeastern Japan was mainly superficial. But it will be days before the company can do a full assessment, Volvo Trucks said.
Volvo employs 10,000 people in Japan, and another 3,000 work at UD Trucks' dealerships.
Volvo said the dealership at Sendai, close to the earthquake's epicenter, had been seriously damaged, and it couldn't yet say how other dealerships had been affected, Dow Jones reported.
Bloomberg News Service contributed to this report.