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Japanese earthquakes send ripples through auto industry

The earthquakes since April 14 in Japan's Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu are having aftershocks on the US auto industry, particularly for Toyota. The company shut down most of its factories in the country due to parts shortages, and the plants will be closed at least through April 23. "Decisions regarding recommencement of operation at plants in Japan will be made on the basis of availability of parts," the company said in a statement.

According to Automotive News, Toyota's closed factories include a vast range of popular models in the US, including the Toyota Prius, Mirai, RAV4, 4Runner, Land Cruiser, Lexus ES, LS, IS, GS, RC, NX, RX, GX, and LX. The company's only sites in Japan that are still open build Hino trucks, Daihatsu models, and the Toyota Century limo.

Toyota isn't yet sure whether these shutdowns could lead to vehicle shortages in the US. "As you can imagine, we are still reviewing the situation and working to learn more," company spokesperson Aaron Fowles told Autoblog. "While we know that production will be suspended in stages at most of our vehicle assembly facilities in Japan between April 18th and the 23rd, we do not know if they will continue production suspensions. Also, any effects to our inventory and/or sales have yet to be determined." He expects the automaker to know more in the coming days.

Many of the affected Toyota plants aren't even in Kumamoto Prefecture, but major suppliers have factories in the region. For example, Aisin Seiki and Renesas Electronics both had to shutdown operations at plants in the area, according to Automotive News.

Toyota isn't the only automaker affected. Nissan experienced a brief slowdown but was back to work on Monday, and Honda has suspended a motorcycle plant in the region until Friday. Mitsubishi had to close a production line due to the parts shortage, according to The Japan Times, but it didn't affect US models. "A supplier to our Mizushima plant has been impacted but they only supply an engine part for our mini car line. That line has been temporarily shut down due to that situation," spokesperson Alex Fedorak told Autoblog. "That same plant builds the Lancer and i-MiEv and there has been no impact to that line and production continues uninterrupted."

Two major quakes hit Kumamoto Prefecture around Kumamoto city in the past week. The first on April 14 measured 6.4 magnitude, and a second on April 16 measured 7.3. As of April 18, Reuters reported there have been at least 42 fatalities and 9 people still missing. The tremors also displaced at least 110,000 people from their homes.

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