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Japan carmakers still hobbled after quake

TOYKO (AP) ― The Japanese auto industry remained largely hobbled Thursday, nearly a week after the country’s worst-ever earthquake laid waste to its industrial northeast, although some manufacturers announced plans to resume limited operations.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s top automaker, will start up plants for producing repair or replacement parts on Thursday. However, the company said it would keep its assembly plants throughout Japan closed through next Tuesday, affecting the production of 95,000 vehicles.

The company said it has not decided when full production will resume.

Toyota also plans to start production of parts for overseas production, including knockdown car assembly, on Monday in plants located in Aichi Prefecture southwest of Tokyo, but not in the northeastern areas hit by the 9.0-magnitude quake and the tsunami it triggered.

Northeastern Japan is a major center for auto production, with a myriad of parts suppliers and a network of roads and ports for speedy distribution. But Toyota said supplier production has not yet recovered enough in the region to resume making cars and other vehicles.
A worker assembles a Yaris compact sedan, for export to North America, on a new assembly line in Ohira in Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan. (AP-Yonhap News)
A worker assembles a Yaris compact sedan, for export to North America, on a new assembly line in Ohira in Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan. (AP-Yonhap News)

“We are making a priority the recovery efforts for the region and the safety of the workers at our plants and suppliers and their families,” Toyota said in a statement.

The northeast is also home to steel plants, oil refineries, nuclear power plants ― some severely damaged by the disaster _and factories making parts for electronics. Roads and other transport networks are crippled, while power supplies are constrained amid an unfolding crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Nissan Motor Co. said it would resume production at its Kyushu plant on Thursday and Friday for as long as inventories of parts last. Other auto-assembly plants, as well as its Yokohama engine plant, will remain closed. Nissan did not disclose the number of vehicles affected.

Nissan said transmission plants were damaged and have stopped operations because of another earthquake on Tuesday in Shizuoka, southwest of Tokyo.

Honda Motor Co.’s auto plants in Japan also remained closed because of the shortage of parts from the northeast. Plans for what’s ahead may be clearer over the weekend, a spokeswoman said.

Mazda Motor Corp. plants remain closed at least through Sunday, also due to a shortage of parts from northeastern Japan.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. started three plants Wednesday and plans to have them running through Thursday, using inventory parts. It did not disclose vehicle numbers affected or say how many are expected to be produced on those two days.
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