Earthquake in Japan Shutters Plants at Honda, Toshiba; Damages Nissan Cars

The earthquake that struck northeastern Japan yesterday damaged and shut down operations of some of the nation’s largest manufacturers, including Nissan Motor Co. and Toshiba Corp. (6502)

Nissan, the second-largest Japanese carmaker, said 2,300 new vehicles were damaged by tsunami surges yesterday in the wake of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in Japan. Toshiba reported closure of a plant that makes sensors for the cameras in its mobile phones.

At least 500 people died and hundreds more remain missing after the waves smashed ports, buildings and cars and stranded thousands without food, water or electricity as temperatures in the worst-hit region near Sendai city plunged as low as minus 2.5 degrees Celsius (27.5 degrees Fahrenheit).

Nissan said four factories and two offices suffered minor damage and the automaker hasn’t been able to contact some of its dealers in northern Japan. Some 1,300 vehicles, mostly Infiniti models, awaiting export to the U.S. at Hitachi port north of Tokyo, were damaged, said Sadayuki Hamaguchi, a Nissan spokesman. About 1,000 others at a service center further north in Miyagi prefecture were also damaged.

Toyota Motor Corp. will suspend production at all 12 of its factories in Japan as well as its body makers on March 14, spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto said in a phone interview today. The company wants to confirm the safety of all its employees before it starts production, and will decide on March 14 if it will start operations the following day, she said.

Honda Motor Co. said it will stop production at factories in Sayama, Mouka, Hamamatsu and Suzuka.

Kirin, Sapporo

Beer vats were smashed and products washed away at the Sendai plant of Kirin Holdings Co., Japan’s second-biggest brewer. Kirin hasn’t been able to confirm the safety of more than 10 sales staff in the city, spokesman Jun Sato said by e- mail today.

Workers at the Sendai plant evacuated to the rooftop to avoid danger, and Kirin’s Toride plant halted operations because of damage, Sato said.

Sapporo Shutdown

Sapporo Holdings Ltd. (2501) shut down three plants to inspect equipment after the earthquake, spokesman Yuki Hattori said by e-mail today. The brewer’s Sendai plant suffered some damage and many bottles were broken, he said. Sapporo’s Chiba plant was also affected, and its Nasu facility is closed for equipment inspections, Hattori said.

Toshiba Corp. shut down a plant and evacuated employees in the northern prefecture of Iwate. No damage was reported at the Iwate Toshiba Electronics Co. plant, which produces logic chips and CMOS image sensors for mobile-phone cameras, Keisuke Ohmori, a company spokesman, said today by telephone.

Elpida Memory Inc. (6665) Japan’s largest memory-chip maker, didn’t have any serious problems from yesterday’s earthquake and is checking availability of materials, Chief Executive Officer Yukio Sakamoto wrote in an email early today, responding to Bloomberg News queries.

NTT DoCoMo Inc. (9437), Japan’s largest mobile-phone operator, is restricting as much as 80 percent of voice traffic in northern Japan, according to a faxed statement.

Smaller Softbank Corp. (9984) imposed restrictions to avoid congestion at 8 a.m. today and has no timeframe for a return to normal service, spokesman Takeaki Nukii said.

Serious damage to the container of the No. 1 reactor at the Kukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant is believed to be unlikely, Kyodo News reported, citing unidentified nuclear safety agency officials.

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