Toyota eyes output at 90% of pre-quake level

Japanese auto giant Toyota said on Wednesday its domestic production would return to about 90 percent of pre-quake levels in June thanks to a faster-than-expected recovery of parts supplies.

The forecast, which is much higher than the previous estimate of 70 percent, will be a huge improvement on April when output was just 21.6 percent of the same month last year.

Production recovered to around 70 percent in May as suppliers were able to restore operations faster than expected.

There are no precise figures for production abroad but expectations for June are between 70-100 percent, Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco said.

Production will still be 70 percent in North America while almost all factories in Europe will operate at 100 percent, he said.

The March 11 earthquake and the tsunami hammered production, shattered supply chains and crippled electricity-generating facilities, including a nuclear power plant at the centre of an ongoing atomic emergency.

Amid power and parts shortages, Toyota had announced production disruptions domestically and in the United States, Europe, China and Australia, temporarily slowing output or closing factories.

On Tuesday the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association said car production and exports suffered record drops of more than 60 percent each in April as a result of the twin disaster.

Despite Wednesday's announcement Toyota shares edged down 0.29 percent to 3,390 yen (Dh149.88) Wednesday as investors had already priced in the faster-than-expected production recovery.

News reports said for the year to March 2012, Toyota's global production would match last year, as the company increases production from late 2011.

Tatsuya Mizuno, who heads the Mizuno Credit Agency, said carmakers had been procuring parts from factories outside the tsunami disaster zone or from abroad.

However, he warned that there could be some problems as some electronic car parts are made by only a "handful" of firms.

"If one company that has an overwhelming market share does not function, it hampers automobile production," he told AFP.

"It will take some time (for automakers) to achieve full production," he said, adding that it would probably take half a year or more for vehicle manufacturing to return to normal.

Electronics firm Renesas Electronics, which has a 40 percent global share of microcomputers used in autos, resumed partial operation on Wednesday at its quake-damaged chip factory in Ibaraki prefecture, northeast of Tokyo.

But it will not be able to begin shipments until late August as microchips need to go through several manufacturing and test processes.

Mizuno said: "Lots of cars were washed away in the tsunami in the Tohoku (northeastern) region and it's certain that there will be surging reconstruction demand.

"Production may not be able to catch up with the demand, resulting in missed sales opportunities for automakers."

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