May 19, 2024

Japanese Carmakers’ Struggles Could Put Customers in Rivals’ Showrooms

But if anyone set on a blue sedan with heated seats and a sunroof or a black crossover with a navigation system and an iPod dock is out of luck at one dealership, there is a good chance the competitor across the street could have a perfect match with a different logo on the grille.

“The inventory levels are going to be fairly tight for the Japanese through the summer,” Brian A. Johnson, an analyst with Barclays Capital, said on Friday. “If someone wakes up in a panic to get a smaller car, they may not find it at the Toyota lot and may go over to the Ford or Hyundai lot instead.”

Ford, General Motors and Hyundai will gain the most market share this year, while the Japanese manufacturers will see their piece of the market shrink, Mr. Johnson predicted. The shift is partly a result of the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, as well as momentum that had already been building in the market.

Declining loyalty rates and improved offerings by the Detroit and Korean automakers mean consumers are more likely than ever to simply look elsewhere if one company runs out of a model in a particular combination.

Toyota said on Friday that its Japanese plants would run at only half their capacity at least until June 3, and company executives have warned dealers to prepare for tight inventories in the months ahead. Toyota, Nissan and Subaru are halting work at their North American plants for several days this month to conserve supplies of parts made in Japan, and Honda has shortened shifts at many of its North American plants.

Recent forecasts by UBS Securities and the J. P. Morgan investment bank said vehicle production in Japan would not return to pre-earthquake levels until October at the earliest. In the second quarter, global production by the Japanese automakers is expected to be anywhere from 25 to 50 percent below normal.

So far, sales have been largely unaffected because of the cushion that dealer inventories provide. But Barclays projects that Toyota will have only 15 days’ worth of inventory at the end of June, a reduction of about three-fourths from what the industry considers ideal.

“It is a tragedy, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” Howard Gammage, the general sales manager of Maguire Chevrolet in Bordentown, N.J., said of the difficulties Japanese automakers are experiencing. “But it is an opportunity for G.M. dealers to bring more people into the showrooms to take a look at what we have to offer.”

Meanwhile, analysts are generally sticking with earlier projections that sales in the United States will top 13 million vehicles this year, up from 11.6 million in 2010. The Detroit automakers have run into small problems — G.M. and Ford each shut a single American plant for one week, and a Japanese-made paint pigment used by Ford and Chrysler might not be available for months — but analysts expect their production to take a minimal hit.

Hyundai is even less vulnerable. A spokesman for Hyundai Motor America, Christopher Hosford, said the company got only about 1 percent of its parts from plants in Japan and those were outside the main disaster area.

Hyundai dealers now expect business this summer to be even better than it initially thought, though they worry whether the company can produce enough vehicles to meet demand as sales head toward a record high for the second consecutive year.

“If people need a car, they’re not necessarily going to have all the choices they would have had previously,” said George Glassman, a Hyundai dealer in Southfield, Mich. “The crisis in Japan is affecting all manufacturers, but clearly it will have a much greater impact on those that rely as heavily on Japanese parts as Toyota and Honda.”

The research firm IHS Automotive has identified Hyundai and the German carmaker BMW as being among the most insulated from Japanese part shortages. BMW competes heavily with Toyota’s Lexus brand, which imports nearly every model from Japan.

A spokesman for BMW North America, Tom Kowaleski, said that the percentage of Japanese parts in its cars was “very, very small” and that operations had been unaffected so far.

The looming shortages of some Japanese models have caused transaction prices across the industry to rise, with the steepest increases on vehicles like the Toyota Prius, which is made in Japan and was in high demand because of the surge in gasoline prices.

In fact, many of the Japanese automakers’ smallest, most fuel-efficient vehicles are imported from Japan, meaning consumers may look to similar models from G.M. and Ford instead. In further good news for Detroit, the rising prices caused by tight supplies could more than offset the lower margins typically generated by small cars, Mr. Johnson, the Barclays analyst, said.

“This won’t be a summer of crazy deal-making,” he said.

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