Marking continued production revival, Nissan Motor Co. chief executive officer Carlos Ghosn visited the quake-hit factory town of Iwaki earlier this week, calling the automaker’s Fukushima plant comeback a “symbol of Japan’s recovery.”
The company explained the factory saw broad structural damage in the devastating March 11 earthquake, which prompted other plants to rally to make up for lost Nissan and Infiniti output.
Nissan’s CEO announced in his second trip since the earthquake that the OEM is adding another work shift at Iwaki, boosting production to 80 percent of pre-quake levels and dovetailing with more suppliers coming online.
“We are standing in the plant as you know the light is back, there is no problem of water, and they are at 100 percent capacity restored,” Ghosn stated.
“It doesn’t mean that the plant is producing at 100 percent, because we still have some problems with some suppliers, but the capacity has been restored at 100 percent,” Ghosn insisted.
Iwaki Plant general manager Nobuhiro Ozawa said factory staff — which fabricated 376,000 engines last year — recognizes its role in Nissan’s revival.
“I am extremely happy. As Mr. Ghosn said, the Iwaki plant has now seen every line resume production, and in the two months since the earthquake finally this date has arrived,” Ozawa highlighted.
“Every day, I have worked with you hoping to see this day, and we, the Iwaki factory, have worked quickly for the company with passion,” Ozawa continued.
Meeting with Iwaki’s 640 workers, Ghosn insisted the earthquake had not forced the company to postpone any strategic plans, adding “the Iwaki plant became Nissan's symbol of swift recovery, and in a certain way, how Japan has reacted in front of something which was the worst natural disaster to hit the country.”
Nissan expects to return to pre-quake output by October as Japan further recovers from the worst natural disaster in its history.
The automaker also shared a transcript of an extended interview with Ghosn posted on its website. Here is the CEO’s question-and-answer session.
This is your second visit since the earthquake struck Japan in March. From your own observations or from what plant officials are telling you, what’s the stage of recovery here now?
Ghosn: It has been spectacular. The first time I came here there was barely anyone in the plant. As you remember, there was a lot of fear about the radiation coming out of the Fukushima plant, the ground was completely torn, we had pipes hanging from the roof, shattered (items) everywhere. There was no light. There was no water. There was no fuel.
You know the plant team were committed and it would come back with reestablishing 100-percent capacity of the plant in record time. They told me we want you back in the plant when we will be at 100 percent.
I am very glad that they did it in such a short period of time. We are on May 17. I am today standing in the plant. As you know, the light is back. There is no problem of water. They are at 100-percent capacity restored. It doesn’t mean that the plant is producing at 100 percent, because we still have some problems with some suppliers. But the capacity has been restored at 100 percent, with some temporary adjustments that have been made. We are going to take the time to fix these problems without handicapping production.
A spectacular job was done because the team has been showing a lot of resolution, a lot of firmness and a lot of teamwork. I am very proud of the fact that many other plants have given a strong hand to Iwaki. Obviously, the job has been done by the Iwaki team, but Yokohama helped, JATCO helped, Tochigi helped. I have seen many people in the plant here coming from different plants, and this is very rewarding.
Looking at how important Iwaki is to both Nissan and Infiniti, the expectations are that in a short while you are adding a second shift. When do you see it fully integrated at 100-percent output capacity?
Ghosn: I think that without any doubt we will be at 100-percent capacity before the month of October. We said that the whole of Nissan will be back at 100-percent capacity without restriction in October. This plant will come before. And particularly with the kind of dynamism and strong will that we are feeling, we are already today at 75 percent.
The team thinks that in June we are going to be even higher, at 80-85 percent. We are moving very nicely, but Iwaki, which was the hardest hit of our plants, will be probably be one of the plants that has been restored the fastest. And we are very proud of the work that has been done here.
Pulling out a bit from Iwaki, there are some automakers, including Nissan, that say the parts and power supply will be the main factors out there. What are your expectations for both?
Ghosn: Well, I think the power supply today is not a problem in Iwaki.
There’s going to be a problem for all Nissan, particularly for the summer months where the government is expecting the industry to make an effort in terms of, you know, limiting the power use because of the energy crisis that the country is facing. And we’re going to deal with that, (we’re) trying not to handicap manufacturing facilities. We are going to do everything necessary in the support functions to try to optimize the manufacturing capacity.
Now, supply is a different issue because, you know, a lot of supplies are back on track normally but we are still working with specific suppliers in order to restore the 100 percent. If it was depending only on Nissan, we would be today at 100 percent. Capacity (would’ve) been restored. Unfortunately, we continue to rely on some suppliers which have been hard hit by the earthquake and the tsunami. And that is why we are saying 100 percent only in October.
We speak about two months and a matter of days since the worst national disaster ever to hit Japan. Reflecting upon that period, thinking of the heroes both within Nissan and across the country, what reflections do you have?
Gohsn: You know, we have had two dramatic crises — the financial and economic crisis 2008-2009, then after this, the tsunami and the earthquake crises.
Every crisis carries its victims and at the same time it carries its heroes. So I think in Iwaki we have had plenty of people who have really done extraordinary things to bring the plant back, you know, in shape.
And I am here today to celebrate our heroes, to recognize the work they have done, to recognize that this plant has been the symbol of Nissan’s strong will to overcome something which is beyond our control which hit us on March 11 and is also a symbol of how resilient Japan can be in a situation where, you know, a lot of people were looking with a lot of sorrow about what’s hitting Japan, and Japanese people stood up in front of the challenge in a way which forced the respect of all the people in the world. And I am very proud to be in Iwaki today and be able to recognize this spirit with the team that deserves it.
Toyota to Boost North American Production Earlier Than Expected
Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America said recently it will boost production earlier than expected following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
Beginning in June, officials indicated overall North American production will reach approximately 70 percent of normal levels, up from approximately 30 percent in May.
The company mentioned the improvement in parts availability from Japan is the result of countermeasure activities implemented by affected suppliers.
Toyota insists it will continue to evaluate production model-by-model on a monthly basis with a goal to return to fully normalized production by late this year.
Models returning to 100 percent production in June are Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Matrix, Sequoia, Sienna and Venza.
“Our team members and suppliers are working closely on countermeasure activities to improve the parts condition from Japan,” stated Steve St. Angelo, executive vice president of TEMA.
“We continue to develop solutions in order to restore 100 percent production as soon as possible for all of our North American-made vehicles. We appreciate the patience of our customers and dealers,” St. Angelo added.