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How the global chip shortage is impacting Japan’s carmakers

Lockdowns and travel restrictions are prompting housebound shoppers to snap up more phones, game consoles, smart TVs and laptops, which in turn has fueled demand for the chips used in those devices.

By: Bloomberg |
Updated: January 15, 2021 2:44:01 pm
Newly manufactured Honda Civic automobiles sit on a car transporter at the Honda Motor Co. auto plant in Swindon, UK, on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. (Image source: Bloomberg)

Japan’s major automakers have cut production at various factories due to the worsening global semiconductor shortage brought about as chipmakers struggle to meet soaring demand from consumer-electronics companies.

Lockdowns and travel restrictions are prompting housebound shoppers to snap up more phones, game consoles, smart TVs and laptops, which in turn has fueled demand for the chips used in those devices. That means carmakers from Toyota Motor Corp. to Volkswagen AG are at risk of not getting enough parts to fuel a fledgling recovery in their own industry.

Chen Shihua, a deputy secretary general of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, said the chip shortage had caused a relatively big impact on China’s automobile industry from late December and may persist into the second quarter. He noted that some chipmakers have boosted their prices, so it’s hard to measure the impact in terms of vehicle-sales reductions.

That’s forced automakers all around the world to cut back on production.

Here’s the state of play for Japan’s firms:

Toyota Motor Corp.

Toyota said on the morning of Jan. 15 it will halt four production lines at three plants in Japan’s Aichi prefecture due to parts shortages. The lines will resume operation for the afternoon shift, a spokeswoman for the company said.

Toyota said on Jan. 10 that it’s cutting production of its full-size pickup truck Tundra due to the global shortage of semiconductors. The company expects to trim output of its Tundra model manufactured in San Antonio by 40% this month as a result of limited chip supplies.

In China, Toyota halted lines at its factory in Guangzhou on Jan. 11 due to parts shortages. Toyota jointly operates the facility with Guangzhou Automobile Group Co.; the plant has produced upward of 300,000 vehicles annually in recent years, including the Camry. The lines resumed operation on the eve of Jan. 12 as the necessary parts were able to be procured, spokeswoman Shino Yamada said.

Honda Motor Co.

Honda is seeing the impact of chip shortage in China and is considering cutting production. “We will replace some models and adjust our work shifts when necessary,” a Honda spokesperson said Jan. 13. On the same day, Honda again said it would stop production at Swindon from Jan. 18 due to supply issues, and aim to restart on Jan. 22.

In North America, Honda said this week it will reduce production of the Accord, Civic and Insight sedans, as well as the Odyssey minivan and Acura RDX, a crossover sports-utility vehicle. Honda will adjust production at its Marysville and East Liberty plants in Ohio, as well as at facilities in Alabama, Indiana and Canada. Honda will cut output by a few thousand units by the end of January, and the adjustment will likely continue, according to the Nikkei, which earlier reported the decreases at Honda North America.

Honda was among the first global automaker to warn of chip shortages, announcing a two-day halt in output at its UK plant on Jan. 5 and 6. Established in 1985, the Swindon facility produces Civic hatchbacks and employed about 2,900 workers as of November. The plant is set to operate until July 2021, when it has been marked for closure, a decision that was announced in 2019.

Nissan Motor Co.

Production of the compact hatchback Note will be cut by about 8,000 units this month, part of a total output reduction that may exceed 10,000 vehicles and last through March, Nikkan Kogyo reported on Jan. 15. A spokeswoman for Nissan declined to comment on specifics of the production cut.

Nissan said on Jan. 8 that it’s cutting back on production at one of its plants in Japan this month. “A global shortage of semiconductors has affected parts procurement in the auto sector,” spokeswoman Azusa Momose said. “As a result of this shortage, the Oppama plant in Japan will adjust production in January, reducing production of the Nissan Note.”

Subaru Corp.

Subaru will cut output by a few thousand units each in January at factories in Japan and the US, a spokesperson said Jan. 14.

“We are adjusting production of multiple models in our Gunma and US facilities due to chip-delivery delays,” the spokesperson said. “The adjustment started from Jan. 11 for Gunma and from Jan. 8 in the US. We are checking the end dates. Other companies are involved in the delivery delays, so our plan depends on them. The impact on output in February and beyond is unclear.”

Subaru is also shutting its main Gunma factory, together with Yajima and Oizumi plants, in Japan for two days starting Friday due to a chip shortage. The carmaker said it is assessing impact on its fiscal 2020 earnings.

Suzuki Motor Corp.

There will be an impact on production, but the automaker is still checking details including which models may be impacted, a spokesman said by phone Jan. 12.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

While Mitsubishi Motors is still checking regarding any impact on output, it hasn’t been forced to adjust its production for the time being due to chip shortages, a spokeswoman for the company said Jan. 12.

Mazda Motor Corp.

Mazda is currently examining whether there has been any impact on production, spokesman Naoto Mawatari said by phone Jan. 12.

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