In Japan, auto parts boss keeps up production

A man walks along a street through debris and past destroyed buildings in Kamaishi town in Iwate prefecture, northeastern Japan.

Jeremy Hobson: Mobile handset maker Sony Ericcson is the latest economic victim of the Japan quake. It says profits fell 48 percent last quarter because of supply chain disruptions. Those disruptions have been particularly bad for the Japanese auto industry.

And Marketplace's Scott Tong has the story now of one car factory boss who's going to incredible lengths to get things back up and running.


Scott Tong: Throughout the crisis in Japan, one thing that stands out to locals and foreigners alike is the country's resiliency.

Case in point: Hiroto Yokoyama, manager of the Iwaki Diecast factory, some 30 miles from the heart of the devastation. The plant makes carburetors and compressors for global automakers. Yokoyama names a few.

Hiroto Yokoyama: Such as BMW, Fiat.

But his biggest customer is Honda. It's no accident that every worker at the factory drives one.

Yokoyama's men are still fixing up their workshop. The quake buckled factory walls, and sank hallways. Out of 250 workers, 45 lost their homes to the tsunami. Twenty-five lost immediate family members. But Yokoyama pressed on.

Yokoyama: We halted one week after the disaster. But we are getting back to production. We'll be at 75 percent production by the end of April.

He delivers, come rain, sleet -- or radiation. Iwaki Diecast's own supplier is idled inside the nuclear plant zone. So this week, Yokohama sent his staff in -- with radiation suits -- to bring the supplier's machines back to their factory so they could keep producing.

Yokoyama: We need to show the industry we've recovered quickly. I fear people are exaggerating how bad this is.

Japan's admirers say this is what the country does best. Tag Murphy teaches international business at Tsukuba University.

Tag Murphy: People will go to extraordinary lengths to keep grocery stores open, to keep supply chains open. This is an extraordinary reservoir of strength that has provoked something close to awe in much of the world.

To be sure, Japan Inc. is now being tested; there's an electricity shortage, trains are out. Labor costs are up, and so is global competition.

Yokoyama: This is a critical time. Will we endure this?

A lot rides on this question -- not just a few hundred jobs here, and at a sister factory in Arizona. But also Japan's squeaky clean reputation for reliability.

In Tohoku, eastern Japan, I'm Scott Tong for Marketplace.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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