2011 Toyota Prius
To say that things have been tough in Japan since the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11 would be a gross understatement. With thousands of lives lost, homes destroyed, families separated, and up to 150,000 living in shelters, it seems almost crass to talk about the effect on business.
But as we've seen, the disaster continues to affect companies around the globe -- perhaps none more so than automakers and parts suppliers. Now, it appears that over 25% of American car shoppers are avoiding Asian brands, precisely because of the disaster.
The data comes from research firm TNS, which surveyed U.S. consumers earlier this month. When TNS asked shoppers how the disaster would affect the auto industry, 46% said they thought that it would cause shortages and price spikes in the availability of parts. Another 37% said they were concerned that it would cause the price of Japanese vehicles to rise.
When asked which brands would be most affected, 63% put Toyota in the #1 spot, followed by Honda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Mazda. Surprisingly, 21% of those surveyed also mentioned Hyundai and Kia -- brands based on the Korean peninsula, which wasn't directly affected by the earthquake or the tsunami. In all, more than 25% of consumers said that they were less likely to consider Asian brands because of the disaster.
There is some truth to the public's perceptions: the disaster has resulted in parts shortages, which are causing major production problems for automakers. However, the shortages affect a wide range of brands, including GM -- not just Japanese models.
There's also something to be said for rising auto prices. Although vehicles aren't necessarily becoming more expensive, the incentives that help bring prices down have been disappearing.
However, incentives aren't just disappearing on Asian models. True, the phenomenon began with Japanese makes, mostly because of anticipated shortages. But as those incentives have dried up, other automakers have followed suit: following the simple law of supply and demand, companies know/expect that auto supply will be reduced, meaning that they can get more for their products.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway of all is that in today's increasingly interconnected world, no company operates in a vacuum. We wish the people of Japan the best as they continue to make progress in recovering from this disaster.