Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. thought it had done everything it could to prepare for an emergency, but the aftermath of the April 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan showed it how much more there was to consider.
Nissan, with corporate offices in Tokyo, had put its plants in Japan through a disaster drill just a few days before the dual strikes of the earthquake and tsunami near Fukushima, said Hidetoshi Imazu, executive vice president of manufacturing and supply-chain management, at the auto industry's Management Briefing Sem- inars in Traverse City on Aug. 6.
The drill was almost a dress rehearsal for the real thing, he said.
Early reports showed Nissan had some damage at a few facilities, but was able to recover internally fairly quickly. When its direct suppliers of parts in Japan were forced to shut down because of damage or power shortages, the automaker was able to turn to global parts makers to fill its pipelines.
But it had not gone far enough down the supply chain to see the full effect, Imazu said.
“There was a necessity to understand everything down to the Tier N supplier,” he said, not just first or second-level companies.
The same was true with fellow Japanese carmaker Toyota Motor Co., said Jim Lentz, president and CEO of the Toyota City-based firm's Toyota Motor Sales USA. Before the earthquake, he said, the firm didn't fully understand the possible problems within its third- and fourth-tier suppliers.
The same is true throughout the global auto industry, and each firm needs to do more careful study of pinch points in its chain, Lentz said.
“I can assure you, we understand that today,” he said.
Nissan's recovery was hampered by one small company that was the sole supplier for one small part, he said, and during the past year the company has set about tracking every company within its supply chain.
“We needed a strategy for multiple sourcing on everything.”
It has now sought backups in a variety of locations, he said.