Honda Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. said Thursday they will resume limited production at several Japanese factories in April, but full production depends on the availability of parts.
The moves are another sign that the Japanese auto industry is starting to come back from the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami, but industry analysts say it may take until summer before factories are back at full output.
Japan is the second-largest supplier of cars in the world, as well as a major parts producer. The impact of the earthquake already is causing production cuts in the U.S. and other countries. Few plants in Japan were seriously damaged by the quake, but water and electricity supplies have been hampered.
Scotia Economics Senior Economist Carlos Gomes said assembly plant shutdowns in Japan have cut auto production by about 37,000 vehicles per day. Through Thursday, he estimated that production losses topped 500,000.
Honda said Thursday that it will restart the Sayama Plant and Suzuka Factory on April 11, but they will run at about half the normal rate. The Honda also will start production and shipment of component parts for regions outside Japan on Monday, it said in a statement.
When the two plants come back on line, all of Honda's Japanese auto production plants will be back in operation. Both plants had been shut down since the earthquake hit.
"As the parts supply situation remains fluid, production of component parts and vehicles at Honda plants will resume at approximately 50 percent of the original plan at the outset," Honda's statement said. "Honda will carefully monitor the situation and manage its operations accordingly."
The company said most of its Japanese parts suppliers have resumed production, but a few are still down. "In those cases, Honda is working with its suppliers to help re-establish their operations, while evaluating other possible sources for those parts in the supply chain," the company said.
Honda also said it resumed motorcycle and power product production at its Kumamoto Factory on Monday.
Honda began shutting down factories the day of the earthquake, and on March 14 joined Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. in halting full production in Japan for several days.
Mazda said Thursday it will start making cars at the Hiroshima and Hofu plants Monday, but only on a limited basis due to parts availability. A decision on resuming full-scale production of parts and vehicles will come later. Mazda suspended production at the plants on March 14 due to a parts shortage.
The moves by Honda and Mazda are the latest signs of the Japanese auto industry inching back toward full production.
On Wednesday, Nissan said it will resume normal operations in mid-April at nearly all of its Japanese plants. The company shut down its entire auto production in Japan from March 14 to 16.
But auto production globally could worsen before it fully recovers by summer, Gomes said Thursday in an interview. Two key parts factories, one owned by Hitachi Automotive that makes air flow sensors, and another owned by Renesas Electronics, were damaged in the earthquake. Hitachi has 60 percent of the market for the sensors, which are key to making engines run, while Renesas has a 40 percent market share of microprocessors that control brakes, engines and transmissions, Gomes said.
Although much of their sales are to Asian factories, they also ship to North America and elsewhere, he said.
"Until we get those facilities starting to come back, this will be kind of only a partial resumption" of auto production, said Gomes.
On Wednesday Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said Chrysler production will be hurt by slow deliveries of electronic parts because of the earthquake. He estimated there would be a production "dislocation" of one to three weeks. A Chrysler spokeswoman would not comment further on Thursday.
Japanese automakers may lose production temporarily, but once parts begin flowing again, they will crank up factories to make up for the losses, Gomes said. Still, they likely will take a hit to profits this quarter but recover later in the year, he said.