* Plant likely to “see some nonproduction days”
* Company unsure when idling would occur or for how long
* Factory builds the Tundra, Tacoma pickup trucks (Adds comments, detail, background, byline)
By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO, March 24 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) expects to idle its pickup truck assembly plant south of San Antonio due to supply disruptions caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Toyota is not alone as other manufacturers with dwindling inventories are looking at slowing production of low-selling models. For instance, General Motors Co (GM.N) has temporarily idled its pickup plant in Shreveport, Louisiana.
“We are informing our team members that, with the situation over in Japan, it is likely that we will see some nonproduction days coming,” Craig Mullenbach, spokesman for Toyota’s San Antonio plant, told Reuters on Thursday.
“At this point, we are still not sure of when those might hit, or if they do it, what the duration may be,” he said.
Toyota said on Wednesday it would slow some North American production because of supply disruptions caused by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, but did not identify plants that would be affected. Sources familiar with the Japanese automaker’s thinking had said the San Antonio plant fit the criteria. [ID:nN23288792]
Toyota had suspended production at least through March 26 at all of its 18 factories that assemble Toyota and Lexus vehicles in Japan, including those operated by group units. However, it said on Thursday it would restart production of three hybrid models on Monday. [ID:nL3E7EO1BJ]
Most parts for Toyota’s North American-built vehicles come from about 500 suppliers in the region, and Mullenbach said that applies to the San Antonio plant as well. The company said it continues to receive parts from Japan that were already in the pipeline, limiting the immediate impact of the disruption there.
However, Mullenbach added that parts needed to build the full-sized Tundra and mid-sized Tacoma pickup truck in San Antonio are running out.
“We had a few weeks pipeline of parts that come in from Japan, and we have been trying to conserve them by limiting the overtime that we’re running,” he said. “Still, with all the disruptions going on in Japan, we see there is a likelihood of lost production days, but we don’t know when, or how long that might take.
“We build the Toyota and the Tundra on the same line, and we don’t batch-build, so if there is a problem that would affect the production of one model, we will stop production on both models,” Mullenbach added.
Toyota hopes to keep the 2,800 plant employees on the payroll without furloughs during any production stops, much as the company did during two planned shutdowns due to lagging demand in 2009, he said.
Tundra sales through February in the United States are up about 40 percent over last year, while Tacoma sales are off 0.4 percent. Last year, Tundra sales rose 17.5 percent, while Tacoma demand declined 5 percent.
March auto sales have so far been little affected by events in Japan, but both Barclays Capital and J.D. Power and Associates on Thursday indicated that shortages of parts are likely to soon cut into auto production and sales. (Reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Writing by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Derek Caney, Dave Zimmerman)