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Japan disaster hits auto giants

By Claes Bell, CFA · Bankrate.com
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Posted: 7 am ET

It's a relatively minor consideration in the wake of one of the worst natural disasters in Japanese history, but Japan's storied auto industry has already been significantly affected by the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on Friday.

In the short term, most major Japanese auto companies were reportedly forced to shut down at least some of their manufacturing plants, and at least some of those will need extensive repairs, according to media reports. In the long term, damage to Japanese ports may significantly slow shipping traffic out of the country, hindering exports to the U.S.

Many Japanese manufacturers have moved some or all of the production for many models to the U.S., so that should help them keep cars supplied to U.S. dealers. Ironically, several of the affected plants manufacture exactly the types of electric and high-mileage vehicles that are currently in high demand thanks to skyrocketing gas prices in the U.S.

Here's a look at how Japan's largest car makers have been affected by the disasters.

1. Honda -- According to Associated Press reports, thirty Honda workers were injured at a Honda research facility in northeastern Tochigi prefecture. One worker was killed at a Honda assembly plant. As of this writing, the company's Sayama plant remains closed, which could impact several models exported to the U.S.

Models potentially affected: Honda Fit, Accord and CR-V, Acura RL and TSX.

2. Toyota -- Toyota's website lists four factories that had been forced to shut down production, although the company says many of the affected facilities have already resumed production, according to MediaPost.

Models potentially affected: Toyota Yaris, Scion xB and xD.

3. Nissan -- Nissan reports five plants closed, with fires being reported at two of those plants. One of the facilities affected, the Iwaki Plant, produces many of the company's V-6 engines, which appear in a wide variety of vehicle platforms. Another affected facility, the Oppama Plant, builds parts for Nissan's electric vehicles, including the all-electric Leaf.

Models potentially affected: Infiniti G37, Nissan 370Z, Nissan Murano, Nissan Maxima.

4. Subaru -- Reuters reports Japanese manufacturing giant Fuji Heavy Industries, which builds Subaru-brand vehicles, has halted production at all five of its Japanese plants.

Models potentially affected: Nearly all models. There's one Subaru manufacturing facility in the U.S., which assembles the Outback, Legacy and Tribeca models, but it's likely dependent on parts manufactured in Fuji's U.S. facilities.

5. Mazda -- Mazda's Japanese facilities are concentrated in the southwestern corner of the country, which was not as hard-hit by the tsunami. No word yet from the company on whether any plants have closed.

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