It's even worse than you think.
Despite encouraging messages from Japan's automakers and suppliers, the hard truth is that the March 11 earthquake likely will trigger a summer of shortages of Japanese vehicles and parts -- no matter where they are made.
Some analysts predict the quake's damaging effects could be felt into next year, even by Detroit and European automakers dependent on key Japanese parts.
While Japanese carmakers struggle to restart crippled supply chains, shortages of crucial parts already are hindering assembly operations in North America.
Honda and Subaru last week went on half time at the plants that produce most of their U.S. volume. Nissan North America will close its U.S. vehicle and engine plants for six days this month and its Mexican plants for five days.
Most Japanese automakers assemble most of their North American cars in North America. But they are discovering that missing a single critical component from a quake-stricken supplier -- be it black paint or an engine control module -- can stop the line cold.
"My feeling is that this will be short-lived," says Mike Castro, new-car sales manager at Newton Nissan in Gallatin, Tenn. "But if it starts affecting the models made in America? That would be bad."
Three cars built in North America -- the Altima, Versa and Sentra -- account for more than half of Nissan's total U.S. sales.
Privately, automakers admit they simply don't know how bad the Japanese industrial crisis is or how deeply it will cut into North American business in the coming months. Sources say vehicle production may be in fits and starts as assembly plants transition from the use of parts in inventory before the earthquake to parts procured since the disaster.
There probably is still sufficient slack in the retail pipeline, despite already-lean inventories, to carry dealerships through April. After that, though, it may feel like the spigot has been shut off.
Automakers say cargo ships packed with Japan-built cars and components that were made before the quake will continue to arrive at North American ports through April. But after last week's arrival of the Polaris Leader at the Port of Long Beach, Calif., Toyota was expecting just one more carrier to arrive there this week.
Toyota says a few ships left after the quake, carrying cars parked at Japanese ports or finished cars that were in transit from the factory when the quake struck.
Andy Eccher, head of vehicle processing at Southeast Toyota Distributors in Jacksonville, Fla., says his port processing operation has been told to expect only three cargo ship deliveries from Japan in April. Normally it would get five.
"That will mean about 1,000 fewer vehicles for the month," Eccher says. "That's not good, but we're confident we can easily make that volume back up in the June-July time frame."
But those April ships were launched before March 11. What will deliveries look like in May?
"We don't have that information yet," Eccher says.