TOKYO – Mother Nature is once again bashing Japan's automakers.
Massive flooding in Thailand is forcing prolonged production stoppages at Toyota, Honda and Nissan operations in the major manufacturing hub. The disruptions come just as the automakers' Japanese output returns to normal from the March earthquake and tsunami that all but shut down the domestic industry for months.
Supply chain disruptions haven't hit overseas operations yet. But if the flooding worsens, it could affect factories in North America or elsewhere that rely on parts sourced from Thailand.
The typhoon-induced flooding has reportedly killed about 280 people in Thailand and swamped nearly two-thirds of the country. Thailand is an Asian auto making powerhouse, with global players flocking there for its free-trade pacts with other booming Southeast Asian economies.
Toyota closed its three plants in Thailand on Oct. 10, not because the plants were directly affected by the rising waters but because suppliers were flooded. With little sign of the water receding, Japan's No. 1 automaker has extended its factory shutdowns through Oct. 22.
No Toyota factories outside Thailand have been idled yet due to delayed parts shipments from Thailand. But the company is still assessing the supply chain integrity.
Honda had to close its single auto factory on Oct. 4 because of parts shortages. Then the floodwaters inundated the plant on Oct. 8, forcing the automaker to suspend operations indefinitely.
"The factory's first floor is still under water, so it's hard to predict how things will go," Honda spokesman Keitaro Yamamoto said. Honda's factory in Ayutthaya has annual capacity of 240,000 vehicles, though none of those cars are exported to the United States.
Still, Honda is checking to see which overseas assembly plants, including those in North America, use components imported from Thailand. It is not aware of any supply interruptions yet.
"We are still determining whether there could be an impact on models made in the Untied States or any other countries," Yamamoto said. "There could be some global models."
Nissan closed its plant for the first time on Oct. 17 and will keep it closed through Oct. 19. The plant is unaffected by flooding, but production has been hit by supply shortages.
A Nissan spokeswoman said it was not immediately clear what exposure the company's overseas plants had to auto parts shipped from suppliers in Thailand.