Last week’s massive earthquake—possibly the greatest in recorded history—that devastated northwestern Japan has destroyed thousands of lives and disrupted Japan’s economy. But it’s also affected the motorcycle industry. We contacted the Japanese Big Four to find out how the disasters—Tsunami, earthquake and nuclear power problems—will disrupt production and other activites of some of our favorite brands.
None of the four companies’ USA communications departments had anything official to say about the disaster, but the home offices had prepared statements. Big Red will shut down six Japanese factories (including the Hamamatsu and Suzuka plants) by March 20th. The company will also suspend its regular operations at its factory and R&D center in Tochigi, which was much closer to the quake’s epicenter. The reason for the shutdowns (during which regular Honda “associates” and new hires will be told to stay home) seems to be to not only assess damage, but to also allow electrical power and other resources to be concentrated on relief and recovery efforts. To that end, Honda has donated 300 million Yen ($3.7 million), as well as 1000 portable generators and 5000 gas cans.
Yamaha reported one employee injured, but that there was no damage to any of its factories or other facilities in the quake zone. However, there was “caved in” pavement at Yamaha’s big SUGO racetrack, located not far from the coast in Miyagi prefecture. We don’t have official word from Yamaha on possible factory closures, either short term or long term, at this time.
There has been no official word yet from Kawasaki—either the Heavy Industries mothership or its USA affiliate. However, as most of KHI’s facilities are well south of the affected area, operations will probably continue unchanged for the short term.
Suzuki shut down operations at all of its Japanese facilities as well, placing “priority on the safety of all at subsidiaries and suppliers as well as their family members.” These factories include the motorcycle engine plant in Takatsuka, as well as the Toyokawa assembly plant.
Of course, these factories probably aren’t being shut down for purely humanitarian reasons. The affected regions are heavily industrialized, especially the city of Sendai. This means disruptions in the production of sub-components, as well as a fractured supply network. Also, the shutdown of nuclear powerplants and damage to the country’s electrical grid means reliable power could be a problem.
In fact, it will probably be some time before anybody knows the full extent of the damage, as the nuclear problem is still evolving.
A reminder to those of you who would like to donate to the rescue effort to look at yesterday’s article for a link to a useful Google website ( that now includes easy donation options for multiple charitable organizations, not just the Japanese Red Cross).