Japanese auto companies on Wednesday extended shutdowns of car-assembly plants affected by the country's devastating earthquake and tsunami, but in a sign of progress, some parts factories in Japan plan to resume production later this week.
Toyota Motor Corp., the world's biggest automaker, said Wednesday it will extend production halts at its car plants through March 22, affecting about 95,000 vehicles. The company halted production March 14 and originally thought it would restart it today.
Toyota, however, will resume production on Thursday at factories that make replacement parts for vehicles already on the road. And it will restart plants on March 21 that make parts for overseas factories.
Japan is the world's second-largest producer of automobiles after China, and is a top trade partner with the United States, which imported 1.2 million vehicles from Japan in 2009. The earthquake, tsunami and radiation from damaged nuclear power plants have raised concerns of falling supplies of high-mileage cars made only in Japan. Those models include the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris and hybrids such as the Toyota Prius.
Toyota spokesman Javier Moreno said one of its three subsidiary hybrid battery plants, in Miyagi, sustained limited damage. He said the company has not determined when production will resume at the three plants but the company said the other two were located in central Japan and were not affected by the earthquake.
Toyota said the company was "making every effort to minimize any long-term impact on Prius availability."
Toyota also said its U.S. car dealerships in the U.S. have adequate inventories. Nearly 70 percent of Toyota and Lexus vehicles sold in the U.S. are made in North America.
Prius vehicles are built in Japan, and would be impacted more by the production halt there, Toyota said. For now, inventory levels of the Prius at U.S. dealerships are generally still adequate.
Among other affected plants:
_ Nissan Motor Co. said it was resuming production at two car-assembly factories on Thursday and Friday for as long as its inventory of parts lasts. Three other Nissan plants are suspending production until Sunday. Nissan has not disclosed the number of vehicles affected by the production cuts.
Workers at most of Nissan's plants have been able to repair damage, although restoration efforts will take longer at the Iwaki engine plant because of aftershocks affecting the region. The company said it is still taking time to arrange delivery of parts from suppliers.
Nissan said all North American manufacturing plants will continue to operate on schedule. It does not expect any short-term impact on sales or availability of cars and trucks. In addition, the company has a 50 days' supply of vehicle stock in North America or already in transit from Japanese ports.
_ Honda Motor Co. has suspended production at six Japanese plants through the end of the week, along with a research and development center and an engineering office. The production cuts will affect 16,600 vehicles and 2,000 motorcycles.
Honda's auto plants will remain closed because of the shortage of parts from northeastern Japan, where the earthquake and tsunami were centered. The company's plans for the factories may become clearer over the weekend.
_ Mazda and Subaru plants will remain closed through March 20. Mitsubishi is running three plants on Wednesday and Thursday, using inventory parts.
Following the earthquake and tsunami, Japanese auto companies have been assessing the damage to their plants as well as to the ports and roads key to their distribution channels.