As Japan's escalating disaster comes ashore in North America, automakers, suppliers and dealers are preparing for shortages of parts and vehicles.
-- On Thursday, March 17, American Honda Motor Co. Executive Vice President John Mendel sent a memo to U.S. Honda and Acura dealers saying the disaster in Japan will disrupt dealer orders into May.
-- General Motors' Shreveport, La., factory, which builds the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups, closed because it ran out of a Japanese part that it did not identify.
-- Toyota Motor Corp. and Subaru of Indiana Automotive Inc. slowed North American production to ration their parts.
-- At Sonic Automotive Inc., the nation's third-largest dealership group, Jeff Dyke, executive vice president of retail operations, said Sonic "is prepared to supplement our new-vehicle inventory with quality nearly new used vehicles should the manufacturing disruptions interrupt new vehicle inventory supplies longer than currently anticipated."
-- Last week U.S. Customs directed all port operations to begin screening arriving Japanese sea and air cargo, including vehicles and auto parts, for radiation contamination. Customs will turn away containers or people if unacceptable levels of radiation are detected.
If factory shutdowns spread, says Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends at Truecar.com, U.S. retailers should prepare for higher transaction prices on new vehicles in the next 60 days.
"Not just Japanese-brand vehicles but all brands," Toprak says. "If there is going to be scarcity of Japanese models, then you will see their incentives fall. And if incentives fall on those brands, you can be certain they will fall everywhere."
Toprak estimates that the average transaction price of the Toyota Prius, which is built only in Japan, will go from $1,732 below sticker last week to $800 above sticker by April 30. One of three Japanese battery plants supplying the Toyota Prius was damaged by the quake.
"We have a Toyota dealership that sells 25 Prius models a month, and we have 13 in stock," said a dealership group executive who asked not to be identified. "What do you think will happen?"
Some of the transaction price increases reflect rising gasoline prices. Many of the models now threatened by production disruptions in Japan are among the automakers' most fuel-efficient, including the Honda Fit, Insight, Civic Hybrid and CR-Z. TrueCar.com forecasts that the discount off sticker on a Honda Fit will shrink from an average of $1,188 last week to $400 by April 30, effectively a price increase of $788.
Ford Motor Co. declined to speculate what impact future parts shortages would have on its sales.
"We don't want to be drawn into what potential impact it might have because this situation is moving so quickly," says Todd Nissen, a Ford spokesman.
Ford has not experienced any parts' shortages that would force it to suspend production at any plants, Nissen says. But he warns: "It's a situation that changes constantly and we're monitoring it daily with hourly contact with our suppliers, shipping companies and all the others that are part of the logistics system."
He declined to quantify the percentage of parts used by Ford that come out of Japan.