Car makers hit by parts supply crisis

  • Waiting lists may increase as parts supplies dry up
  • Ford and Chrysler hit by short supply of metallic paint
  • BMW says customers will have to be patient

Waiting times for new cars could increase and buyers could have their choice of spec restricted because the Japanese tsunami has affected car part suppliers in the crisis-hit region.

Earlier this month Toyota, Honda and Mazda had to halt production in Japan due to disruptions in parts supply following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Originally it was thought that it would not affect the UK because Honda, Toyota and Nissan have factories in this country, but there are fears that parts sourced from Japan could put a spanner in the works. In some cases the pigments for specific paint colours are sourced from Japanese suppliers and that could eventually restrict choice for new car buyers at the dealership.

A spokesman for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said: "Even if you have 99% of the parts you need to build a car, if you haven't got all the bits it could cause a problem. There have been some concerns but the manufacturers do have a six-week buffer of parts that will keep cars rolling off the production lines."

Most car parts are shipped to the manufacturers a short time ahead of the assembly line requirements, which means that most car factories have relatively low inventories, which can create shortages in supply.

But at the Honda factory in Swindon the production line is not running at full capacity so it does not need so many components. Paul Ormond, spokesman for Honda UK, told BBC News: "We will probably be building 160,000 cars with the potential production capacity of 250,000, so that will actually mean we don't need to have a full inventory until we get to that level, which won't be for another year to 18 months."

Mazda has ordered its dealers in the US to delay ordering car shipping from Japan in anticipation of the reduction of parts supply due to factory closure. The car maker has factories in Hiroshima and Hofu - both plants unaffected by the tsunami and earthquake - but production had been suspended due to lack of parts.

Toyota bosses in the UK are optimistic that waiting times won't be affected. The car maker is working through its six-week buffer of parts but a couple of shiploads of parts are already on their way. Toyota's most popular cars such as the Auris, Yaris, Aygo and Verso are all built in Europe and the Lexus models have a long delivery time so Toyota is confident it will be business as usual in the dealerships.

A Toyota spokesman told Parkers: "Production in Japan stopped for about two weeks but started again yesterday (March 28). Hopefully this will be just a small blip."

The crisis is not just limited to Japanese volume car makers. Premium brands such as BMW and Jaguar are experiencing a shortage of parts.

Jaguar might be delayed by a short-supply of LCDs for an infotainment system used in its XF model, while BMW reported that it had a limited supply of semi conductors produced by a Japanese company for its BMW and MINI models. The Managing Director of BMW UK, Tim Abbott, said: "We are not sure when we will get a new supply so this will affect all BMW and MINI deliveries. Customers will have to bear with us."

Peugeot and Citroen also had to slow production last week, at seven plants in France and Spain, because it was running low on sensors used in its diesel engines. The supplier, Hitachi, is having trouble meeting demand because one of its plants was damaged in the earthquake.

General Motors cancelled shifts at plants in Spain and Germany because of a shortage of Japanese-built electronic part used in its Corsa and Meriva models, while Ford and Chrysler are restricting orders for vehicles in some shades of black and red as a result of disruptions at a plant that supplies metallic pigments.