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  • March 15, 2011
  • Gabe Ets-Hokin
  • Japanese Red Cross

Japan Disasters Affecting Motorcycle Companies’ Operations

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).


  1. Jack says:

    What can you put down in words to express how terrible this is for everyone. I have gained the utmost respect for the Japanese people in light of this disaster and can only look up to them for how they control themselves. In many ways I now see how they are a, in my opinion, superior people in that they are respectful and control themselves in what can only be described the most horrid conditions to face mankind. What does it take for most other cultures to break out in luting and violent behavior, whitness the L.A. riots? We have a long long way to go to even approach the Japanese. It’s easy to see how swiftly they capitalized on the North American manufacturing, and god help us as we spiral downward with our face book, couch potatoe , texting idiot youth.

    • sliphorn says:

      Entirely different cultures, Jack. Superior? No, just different. Believe me Jack, there are plenty of face book, couch potato, texting idiot Japanese youth too.

      Do you guys remember September 11th 2001? New Yorkers handled themselves proudly and with grace.

      • kpaul says:

        Agreed. Cultures are just different ways of living. Each have disadvantages and advantages. Also we should be careful about generalizations. We, the U.S. still design, make and build some cool stuff. Things like Space stations, Unmanned Space Shuttles, Composite Jet liners, Stealth aircraft, Chevy Volts, Telsas, Zeros, iPods, iPads and Macs. Yes are high schools are turning out students who can’t read or do math but our Universities are still good.

        • bo_nos says:

          In all honesty, the devastation of 9/11, though horrible and severe, was limited to roughly a square mile, and allowed a stable infrastructure to mount recovery efforts from. Compare this Katrina, however, and you see a MAJOR difference in how a population comports itself, though governments and corporations continue to underplay the severity and overplay their competency to handle it…

          • kpaul says:

            Agreed. Excellent points

          • sliphorn says:

            It’s still about culture. I suspect that if the same level of natural disaster happened in Fargo, ND as happened in New Orleans, the behavior of the folks in ND would have been considerably different than what we saw in New Orleans.

  2. Mickey says:

    The Japanese are a quiet, and proud people. They will pull together and help each other in ways beyond our comprehension. They are very generous when it comes to helping other countries in need, and never asked to be recognized for their donations. I hope their good will is returned 10 fold. I imagine the “public line” is but a tiny fraction of what will actually be done by not only the motorcycle industry but all factions of Japanese industry. If they had to shut down and not make any new motorcycles for a year or more I’d be ok with that. Take care of your people at home, we will still be here when you are ready.

    God forbid this event happened in the US where everyone would be expecting “instant” miracles from the government.

    God bless and comfort the Japanese people and may there suffering be short lived.

  3. Youth says:

    Actually, there was one Honda R&D personnel who passed away from this earthquake at its Motegi/Tochigi plant..Apparently, building or shelves collapsed on him..

    By the way, are there any diesel generators powered by biofuels?

  4. Ze says:

    @Patrick D:
    take it easy man…
    haven’t you seen the 1st thing they did was putting a way to donate ?
    so go donate instead of blaming…

  5. tron says:

    This being a motorcycle reporting website I think it is entirely appropriate to report the effect on the motorcycle industry. I also appreciate the encouragement to donate to relief efforts. Whereever Patrcik D is from I suggest he be the one to shut the hell up.

  6. kpaul says:

    Please donate to Red Cross and encourage your company and friends to do so as well. I really feel for the Japanese people. The major companies (and their employees) in the Pacific NW have close ties to Japan and have given generously to the relief effort. I really admire the Japanese people very much and I hope they get the help they need. I applaud our government for the help offered and given.

  7. denny says:

    Japan is not just a nation of motorcycles, of course. But in a special way, we enthusiasts are connected with them so much more. I’d suggest, in the future let’s help them the best way we can – let’s keep buying their product. I am sure they will do the best to satisfy us as they did decades before.

  8. Old town hick says:

    (I mistakenly made this post elsewhere on the site…meant to put here where I think it is more relevant.)

    While acknowleging the current devastation in Japan, I wanted to touch on the historic effects of the their motorcycle industry.

    It is almost impossible to imagine what kind of motorcycling business/culture might exist today if it were not for the rise of the Japanese “Big Four” during the past fifty years. They brought riding to the masses with innovative and reliable products at relatively affordable prices. The fact that millions of people became not just riders, but actual riding enthusiasts, has actually HELPED Harley-Davidson and the remaining European manufacturers to improve and eventually thrive to each one’s individual degree.

    I started on a Honda 31 years ago at a time in my life when I couldn’t go anywhere near something from the US or “across the pond”. It spawned an eventual string of 17 more motorcycle purchases of product made in Japan, Italy, and Germany, as well as a ton of riding gear and other accessories. If H-D or Victory had ever made something that fit my chosen riding style I probably would have had at least one of them as well.

    There has been a lot of bashing of the Japanese manufacturers lately for their perceived lack of new and exciting products during the recent economic downturn, with myself included. However, in the long term global-scale view, we have the same “Big 4″ to thank for the motorcycling choices that we have today-and that we have had for a half-century.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “There has been a lot of bashing of the Japanese manufacturers lately for their perceived lack of new and exciting products during the recent economic downturn”.

      EXACTLY… the righteous brothers once sang, “you’ve lost that lovin feelin”. if it weren’t for the time difference, one might think they took their inspiration from the american motorcycle consumer…? familiarity has bred contempt.

  9. Norm G. says:

    good reporting, i was wondering when we would hear something (anything) regarding the japanese manufacturers and not just honda. all praises to MD for fostering inclusion. if this tragic event doesn’t convince us how important it was/is to cease the negativity (often kneejerk and rarely rational) and support the industry as a whole, then i don’t know what will…? between japan and the kiwis (lest we forget them), there are about a million people right now who would give all they own for the simple pleasure of a bike ride…? or the luxury of attending a race…? united we stand, divided we fall. this is our waterloo.

  10. paul m. says:

    not 5000 gasoline cans but 5000 lpg canisters to fuel honda’s lpg fueled generators.

  11. Patrick D says:

    ‘We contacted the Japanese Big Four to find out how the disasters-…—will disrupt production’

    Really? I’m sure that’s top of their list of priorities at this time.

    Just like the yanks to start worrying about their share prices and other superficial crap at a time of a humanitarian crisis. There are bigger issues at stake than this. Shut the hell up.

    • sliphorn says:

      Hey Patrick D——-Don’t be painting “us yanks” with that kind of broad brush. As usual, US YANKS will be spending gazillions in humanitarian aid, not to mention specialized aid. So, will you please shut the hell up?

  12. Donnie says:

    Of all of the manufacturers I must say I am most impressed by Honda’s efforts thus far, but I imagine all of the manufacturers in Japan are doing their part to help with the devastation there.

    Thoughts and condolences with the families of those afflicted by the tsunami, may they all be comforted in this time of tragedy.

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