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As Japan Shutdowns Drag On, Auto Crisis Worsens
CNBC.com | March 27, 2011 | 05:12 PM EDT

The auto industry disruptions triggered by Japan's earthquake and tsunami are about to get worse.

In the weeks ahead, car buyers will have difficulty finding the model they want in certain colors, thousands of auto plant workers will likely be told to stay home, and companies such as Toyota, Honda and others will lose billions of dollars in revenue. More than two weeks since the natural disaster, inventories of crucial car supplies -- from computer chips to paint pigments -- are dwindling fast as Japanese factories that make them struggle to restart.

Because parts and supplies are shipped by slow-moving boats, the real drop-off has yet to be felt by factories in the U.S., Europe and Asia. That will come by the middle of April.

"This is the biggest impact ever in the history of the automobile industry," says Koji Endo, managing director at Advanced Research Japan in Tokyo.

Much of Japan's auto industry — the second largest supplier of cars in the world — remains idle. Few plants were seriously damaged by the quake, but with supplies of water and electricity fleeting, no one can say when factories will crank up. Some auto analysts say it could be as late as this summer.

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