Forget summer vacation. Instead, North American assembly plants will be making up lost production -- or, in some cases, building extra vehicles to grab market share from Toyota and Honda.
As Japanese companies struggle to restore output, the industry as a whole will be cranking it up. North American light-vehicle production will be higher in the third quarter than the second quarter this year, say forecasters at IHS Automotive and J.D. Power and Associates. If so, it will be only the second time that has happened in 20 years.
Even the assembly plants hardest hit by Japan's earthquake crisis are picking up the pace. Toyota and Honda say production is bouncing back earlier than anticipated.
Beginning June 4, Toyota will be back to full production of the U.S.-built Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Matrix, Sequoia, Sienna and Venza, said Bob Carter, general manager of Toyota Division.
"This is happening much sooner than we expected," said Carter. "It's going to take a little time to get the pipeline going, but dealers will have core vehicles in arriving in good quantities by the middle of June."
Honda told U.S. dealers last week that it expects production to bottom out this month before rising in July and August. And Jim O'Sullivan, CEO of Mazda North American Operations, says he is telling dealers, "We won't run out of cars now and during the summer."
Some trim levels will be in short supply, O'Sullivan says, but "it's a better outlook than we could have anticipated 30 days ago."
Still, he admits that Mazda probably won't be producing at normal levels until the fourth quarter.
But the overall industry looks like it will perk up much quicker. Both IHS and J.D. Power forecast the industry's third-quarter production at 3.2 million units, up from 3.0 million in the three months ending June 30 and up 6 percent from the year-earlier period.
Since mid-April, IHS has revised second-quarter North American production downward by 29,000 units, bringing its total reduction since February for the period to 473,000.
That reduction hides wide variances in forecasts for individual automakers, though. Since mid-April, IHS slashed 145,000 units from North American second-quarter plans for Toyota and Honda combined, while adding 105,000 units to the Detroit 3's collective second-quarter schedule.
Both J.D. Power and IHS say the industry will not make up lost North American production by year end. Since early this year, IHS cut its 2011 production forecast by 200,000 units, to 12.9 million, and J.D. Power slashed its outlook by 40,000 units, to 12.8 million.
"The supply chain is too fragile to make up all the lost production immediately," said forecaster Mike Jackson of IHS.
Toyota and Honda, both in Japan and elsewhere, have been hit much harder than other Japanese automakers. They will not be able to rebuild U.S. inventories fully until next year, Jackson said.