San Bernardino Toyota dealer copes with business impact of Japan quake, tsunami

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Southern California Toyota dealers are still feeling the aftermath of this month’s massive Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

At Toyota of San Bernardino, they haven’t run out of cars, but Cliff Cummings, who owns the dealership, says supplies are tight, especially the Prius and the Scion.

He says shipping has been a problem since the quake.

"Sendai was a port that shipped a lot of stuff and it’s gone, literally. So they’re trying to make a rail line to the west side of Japan and ship things back around," Cummings says.

"Tahara, which is south of Tokyo, is where a lot of it comes out – the big one – and that’s OK. But if widget maker isn’t damaged, he’s still gotta get it to where the assembly plant is, and that’s still a challenge."

Widget maker, meaning the tiny component suppliers.

"The problem is more [about] parts suppliers. So you’ve got 100-plus small suppliers in northern Japan who make a widget that has to go inside of 30,000 other widgets. And unless you have the one widget, the rest of them aren’t coming," Cummings says. "Yaris and Scion xD and Scion xB have been impacted severely."

Cummings points out that his dealership is ninth in the country when it comes to Scion sales.

He says the earthquake and tsunami also shut down production of one of the most popular Toyota models, the Prius.

"They started production again, so we’re going to have a blip, probably a 30-day blip," Cummings says. "It’s already in short supply because of the demand. Now we’re going to have an artificially short supply because of production and demand."

Cummings says there is a silver lining in all of this: car makers have learned the hard way that it’s a bad idea to have component makers grouped in one geographic area.

"The good news is that a lot of these single sources that are no longer single – you know, they’ve been damaged, they’re going to have to diversify geographically into non-seismic areas and countries and places where you’ve got more duplication in case something happens," Cummings says. "And so you’ll see probably a spate of Japanese – Nissan’s already announced that they’re looking at, 'Where are we going to put the next one, because we need to have a backup.' And there were some places where there were no backups."

Cummings says his heart goes out to Japan though, because they’re dealing with something much worse than a limited supply of cars.

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