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Japanese auto production still stalled after earthquake, tsunami disaster


Dr. Jonathan Leightner, an Augusta State University economist who taught for years in Asia, including Japan, says the economic impact of the recent earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster is only beginning to ripple out into the rest of the world. (March 17, 2011 / WRDW-TV)

News 12 at 6 O'Clock / Thursday, March 17, 2011

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- We're really only just beginning to understand exactly how devastating Japan's earthquake will be. The disaster left thousands dead and countless other without homes; Japan's economy has been crushed. Experts say even thousands of miles away, the devastation is only starting to hit home. They believe the aftershocks of this disaster will not only be physical, but emotional and financial. And the United States is not immune.

We've seen story after devastating story of the unimaginable aftermath of Japan's earthquake and tsunami. Even half a world away, this disaster has tugged at heartstrings.

Dr. Jonathan Leightner says the emotional impact is only the beginning. The Augusta State University economist taught for years in Asia, including Japan. "We live in a global economy and have benefited from that global economy because some things and parts are cheaper to make other places," he said. "But in a global economy, we become dependent on each other. So when one of the partners of that global world, like Japan, gets hurt and looses its ability to make things, then we automatically are hurt also."

It's difficult for him to watch a country he called home try to bounce back, and he says the United States will soon see an economic impact, too. "Japan's nuclear reactors going down will mean they will need to buy more oil to fuel their energy to produce electricity and so forth. So you can expect the price of oil to go up. And therefore our price of gasoline to go up."

Automakers are also in the spotlight of Japan's economic downturn. Nissan, Mazda, Toyota, and Honda have all halted production in Japan, either from structural damage or power outages.

As of March 17, 2011, the latest information according to press releases from the following manufacturers:

-Production suspended at Japanese factories through March 22
-Production on replacement parts resumes today
-No overtime hours at North American plants
-40 day supply of Prius available at most dealerships

-Production suspended four Japanese factories through March 20
-Two plants will resume production today and Friday until supplies last
-1,300 Infiniti vehicles damaged in disaster
-50 day supply on the ground at most dealerships

-Production suspended at Japanese factories through March 20
-One employee died in the disaster, 17 more were injured

-Production suspended at two plants until March 20
-Resumed production a three plants Wednesday and plans to have them running through Thursday, using inventory parts until supplies last

-Production suspended through Sunday

Thankfully, says Donnie May, his Nissan dealership in Augusta isn't seeing supply shortages yet. "Nissan in particular does not anticipate any problems. However, with how the economy is going and the way shortages are going, we're watching developments and making sure nothing turns into a bigger problem. But as of right now there's nothing on the horizon to say we have issues coming."

And while Americans might feel a crunch at the pump or at their local auto shop, Japan continues to face a loss of life, loss of livelihood, and now, an economic aftershock. "We have great sympathy in America for what the Japanese are going through," Dr. Leightner said. "And we hope they recover as quickly as possible."

The Japanese exchange rate has already been hurting automakers this year. This morning, the Japanese yen hit an all-time high against the dollar, another blow to their auto manufacturers and industry overall.

Local car dealers are doing their part to help out their auto families overseas. Honda of Aiken is collecting donations for the Aiken Red Cross to go directly to disaster relief in Japan. Donnie May at Sunbelt Nissan says they will do their part, too, pledging to donate $100 per used or new car sold.

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