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Japan auto giants see home output plunge post-quake

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan‘s leading automakers said Monday that domestic production plummeted in March after the massive quake and tsunami, which shut off parts supplies and led to widespread power shortages.

Toyota, Nissan and Honda all reported massive falls in output due to the disaster and ratings agency Standard & Poor’s revised from “stable” to “negative” its outlook for the trio.

Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker, said production in Japan plunged 62.7 percent year on year in March, putting it in danger of falling this year from the global top spot it claimed from General Motors in 2008.

Domestic output slumped to 129,491 vehicles, which Kyodo News agency said was the lowest since records began in January 1976.

Toyota‘s worldwide production fell 29.9 percent to 542,465 vehicles while output at its Daihatsu and Hino subsidiaries was also sharply lower.

The March 11 disasters damaged production facilities and atomic power plants in northeast Japan, triggering the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl and electricity shortages and supply chain disruptions in Japan and worldwide.

Toyota was forced to temporarily close plants and reduce output domestically and in the United States, European Union, China and Australia, running some facilities at half-capacity or less.

Nissan said production at home fell 52.4 percent year on year in March due to the effects of the quake and the termination of a government subsidy programme for environmentally-friendly vehicles.

Domestic production slid to 47,590 units, in contrast to its global output which in March increased 9.0 percent year on year to 382,704 units. Nissan said the figure was a record for the month.

The domestic picture was similar at Honda Motor, which reported output plunged 62.9 percent year on year in March while worldwide total production was down 19.2 percent at 282,254 units.

For the fiscal year to the end of March 2011, worldwide production was up 8.2 percent at 3,575,362 units compared with the previous year, Honda said.

Standard & Poor’s said the financial performance of Japanese automakers in the 2011 fiscal year was likely to be affected by parts shortages following the earthquake and tsunami.

“In our opinion, extended production cuts may erode Japanese automakers? market shares and competitive positions in the longer term,” it said.

S&P however affirmed its ratings on Toyota, Honda and Nissan because it expected the impact of the disaster to be less than that of the 2008 financial crisis.

Also on Monday, Mazda announced a 53.6 percent drop in domestic production year on year in March, with global production down 33.8 percent.

Mitsubishi Motor said its Japan production in March fell 25.7 percent to 49,434, while global production slipped 10.9 percent to 106,229.

“The decline in output in Japan was due to restricted operation of the company’s factories after the Great East Japan Earthquake,” the company said.

Many key component manufacturers are based in the northeast and the shortage of parts has also hit vehicle production overseas.

With auto production stalled, demand for second-hand cars has soared in the disaster-ravaged northeast, Jiji news agency reported.

In hardest-hit Miyagi prefecture, about 150,000 vehicles, or 10 percent of those in the area, were damaged or destroyed, leading to a boom in second-hand sales.

Prices have surged by 100,000-150,000 yen ($1,200-$1,800) for many models, a dealer told Jiji following the weekly used-car auction in the town of Murata.

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