Ripple effects from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan continued to be felt by the U.S. work force this week as Japanese automakers announced cuts in plant production at North American factories.
While the cuts were expected, the news signals the long road ahead for Japan's economy, the world's third largest, and how other nations will be affected.
Japan's big three - Honda, Nissan and Toyota - and the global auto industry are increasingly hampered by parts suppliers in Japan who are struggling in the aftermath of the worst disaster to strike the island nation since World War II.
Strong aftershocks and rolling blackouts almost a month after the magnitude-9.0 quake have continued in metropolitan Tokyo, the nation’s economic center.
Toyota said in a statement on Friday it was cutting production schedules at its North American auto plants “with production suspended on April 15, 18, 21, 22, and 25.”
“The situation in Japan affects many automakers and many other industries. Extraordinary efforts are under way to help suppliers recover,” said Steve St. Angelo, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America. “We are slowing down to conserve parts yet maintain production as much as possible,” he said in the statement.
During shutdowns, Toyota has a custom of continuing to pay its workers while finding them other work - sometimes as volunteers in the factories' communities.
On Friday, the company said it would provide employment for its 25,000 full-time workers, who it calls team members. "Team members not required to work may report to work for training and plant improvement activities, use vacation or take unpaid time off," the company said.
Toyota also announced Friday that it would resume output at all its Japanese factories on April 18, but at 50% capacity.
With the spring and summer auto-buying season approaching, the situation is starting to worry Wall Street.
"The issue of potential supply shortage is a top global priority," Morgan Stanley said in a recent report. "Even a missing $5 part can stop an assembly line."
Honda Motors also announced cuts in domestic output starting next week, with more reductions based on the availability of parts.
While 80% of Honda products and parts sold in the United States are produced in North America, the automaker said “a few critical parts” come from Japan.
“Thus, the unstable parts supply situation in Japan is impacting our ability to operate our automobile plants here in North America at full strength,” the automaker said.
Also, Nissan said this week it expected 50% output at its five factories in Japan through the end of the month.
Toyota, Nissan and Honda operate about 30 major auto factories in North America, according to their respective websites.