Nissan to restart more auto, parts plants in Japan

Nissan Motor Co. plans to resume auto and parts production at more Japanese factories next week, but it may be several months before inventories and other elements of the country's auto industry return to normal.

Nissan Motor Co. plans to resume auto and parts production at more Japanese factories next week, but it may be several months before inventories and other elements of the country's auto industry return to normal.

Nissan said it will resume production of parts at five plants Monday. It then plans to resume vehicle production Thursday as long as supplies last.

Most of Japan's auto industry shut down after a powerful earthquake and tsunami devastated the country earlier this month. Nissan and other carmakers have started resuming some production, but the industry still faces rolling blackouts and infrastructure problems.

Supply levels probably won't return to normal until mid to late summer, said Michael Robinet, director of global production forecasting for IHS Automotive.

"They certainly wouldn't start up if they didn't have all the components," he said. "How long they can stay producing is anybody's guess."

Honda Motor Co. has said it will suspend automobile production until Wednesday. More than 100 of its suppliers are based in the area near where the earthquake and tsunami hit, according to IHS. It told U.S. dealers in an e-mail it can't guarantee when production will return to full capacity.

Toyota Motor Corp., which builds the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury cars in Japan, has shut its assembly plants there through at least Tuesday. Mazda Motor Corp. also said it would resume temporary production Tuesday at a couple plants.

Problems in Japan have affected production in other countries too.

GM said last week it will halt production at a Shreveport, La., plant that relies on Japanese-made transmissions for the two small pickups it produces. It also said two of three shifts will be canceled at a plant in Eisenach, Germany on Monday and Tuesday. Another plant, in Zaragoza, Spain, will remain closed Monday.

Nissan said last week that it was resuming production at its Kyushu plant for as long as parts last. On Sunday, the company said it would expand production this week to include its entire process from parts to vehicle assembly.

But the plants it restarts will not be at full production, said Nissan Americas spokesman David Reuter.

Nissan's Iwaki engine plant also will remain closed. That plant is closer than other locations to the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex.

Reuter said the company is still figuring out the impact from the earthquake, so they don't have a definite sense for how long they can sustain production. Nissan factories had mostly minor damage, and most of the work there involves rebalancing or realigning machinery.

But infrastructure problems remain big issues for Nissan, other carmakers and all their suppliers, Robinet said.

Northeastern Japan is a major center for auto production, with many parts suppliers and a network of roads and ports for speedy distribution. It also is home to steel plants, oil refineries and nuclear power plants, some of which were severely damaged by the disaster.

Factories lose an "incredible amount of efficiency" if rolling blackouts cut power because machines and plants can be difficult to restart, Robinet said.

He noted that road problems can make it harder to get suppliers and workers to factories, and troubles with a water supply also can affect operations.

"If it were only one problem, certainly everybody could focus their attention on it, but there are several issues," he said.

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