Auto industry prepares for reduced shipments from Japan

Although the U.S. powersports industry is a fraction of the size of its automotive big brother, cues can be taken from how the disaster in Japan will affect imports of vehicles, parts and accessories on this side of the Pacific.

The auto industry is the largest U.S. importer of goods shipped via container transport from Japan; therefore, the industry and its aftermarket have the greatest likelihood of disruption as Japan’s industrial output struggles following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Although three Japanese ports – Sendai, Hitachinaka and Kasima – remain closed since last week’s events, Japan’s largest ports – Tokyo, Kobe, Yokohama and others in the southern part of the country -- were reportedly open this week and handling commercial vessels, according to The Journal of Commerce and PIERS, a global import/export information service.

"[Japanese exports] will weaken in the months ahead as the closing of several manufacturing plants prompted by electricity shortages combines with severely damaged roads and bridges to hamper production,” according to Mario Moreno, economist for The JOC. The auto manufacturing and aftermarket face the greatest threat of disruption, Moreno commented.

The situation is compounded by the food and shelter shortages plaguing Japan in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents close to a damaged nuclear energy facility. Simply put, the manufacturers have to figure out how to get the workers back to the plants once they reopen.

Any slowdown of parts shipments from Japan could disrupt powersports production facilities in the United States if those facilities are required to use OEM parts. On the automotive side, Toyota, anticipating parts shortages, announced this week that it stopped overtime and other work activities at 13 North American facilities.

Although the Big Four Japanese marques consolidate their motorcycle manufacturing operations, mostly south and west of Tokyo, none of them were yet prepared to forecast how the recent tragedies would affect the supply chain two, three or four months down the road – it simply is too soon to tell. Check back to for continuing updates on Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki and the Japanese aftermarket brands.

Posted by Mary Slepicka