Tag Archive: Toyota


Japan utility delays decision on halting reactors

A police officer walks in rubble at recovery operation in the area destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Kesennuma,  Miyagi Prefecture,http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110507/ap_on_bi_ge/as_japan_earthquake

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Mari Yamaguchi, Associated Press 1 hr 48 mins ago

TOKYO – A Japanese power company postponed its decision Saturday on a government request that it halt three reactors at a coastal nuclear plant until safety measures can be improved to guard against future earthquakes and tsunamis.

Shutting down the reactors would likely worsen power shortages expected this summer.

On Friday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said he had asked Chubu Electric Power Co. to suspend operation of the reactors at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Shizuoka prefecture until a seawall is built and backup systems are improved. Though not legally binding, the request is a virtual order.

The government is reviewing the safety of the country’s 54 atomic reactors since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in the north. The disaster left more than 25,000 people dead or missing on the northeast coast.

The Hamaoka plant, which is about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of Tokyo in an area where a major quake is expected within decades, has been a major concern for years.

Chubu Electric executives failed to reach a decision after discussing the request Saturday afternoon and decided to meet again after the weekend, company official Mikio Inomata said.

At issue is how to make up for the power shortages that would result from the shutdown of the three reactors. Inomata said they account for more than 10 percent of the company’s power supply.

Chubu Electric has estimated maximum output of about 30 million kilowatts this summer with the three Hamaoka reactors running, with estimated demand of about 26 million kilowatts.

“It would be tight,” Inomata said, adding that officials are discussing the possibility of boosting output from gas, oil and coal-fueled power plants and purchasing power from other utility companies.

Kan said the shutdown request was for the “people’s safety.”

“If an accident occurs at Hamaoka, it could create serious consequences,” he said Friday.

He noted that experts estimate there is a 90 percent chance that a quake with a magnitude of 8.0 or higher will strike the region within 30 years.

Since the March 11 disasters, Chubu Electric has drawn up safety measures that include building a 40-foot-high (12-meter-high) seawall nearly a mile (1.5 kilometers) long over the next two to three years, company officials said. The company also promised to install additional emergency backup generators and other equipment and improve the water tightness of the reactor buildings.

The plant does not have a concrete sea barrier now. Sand hills between the ocean and the plant are about 32 to 50 feet (10 to 15 meters) high, deemed enough to defend against a tsunami around 26 feet (8 meters) high, officials said.

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu called Friday’s government request “a wise decision” and vowed to secure alternative sources of energy.

Residents of Shizuoka have long demanded a shutdown of the Hamaoka reactors. About 79,800 people live within a 6-mile (10-kilometer) radius of the plant.

The Hamaoka plant provides power to around 16 million people in central Japan including nearby Aichi, home of Toyota Motor Corp.

Automakers and other industries have had troubles with interrupted supply lines, parts shortages and damage to manufacturing plants because of the March 11 disasters.

The nationwide newspaper Yomiuri welcomed the government request to shut down the reactors despite concerns about a power crunch.

“The idea is to use the lesson we learned (from Fukushima),” the Yomiuri said, urging other utilities to also improve safety. “An accident and subsequent release of radiation could paralyze the entire country.”

Thousands of people joined an anti-nuclear march Saturday in Tokyo’s crowded Shibuya shopping and entertainment district, chanting “No nuke plants!”

The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant lost its power and cooling systems in the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami, triggering the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Radiation leaks have forced 80,000 people living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the plant to leave their homes.

Since the Fukushima crisis unfolded, officials have acknowledged that tsunami safety measures at Japanese nuclear power plants are insufficient.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima plant, has said the tsunami that wrecked critical power and cooling systems there was at least 46 feet (14 meters) high.

It said radioactivity inside the No. 1 reactor building has fallen to levels deemed safe for people wearing protective suits to enter after workers rapidly installed air filtering equipment Thursday — their first entry since shortly after the tsunami. Workers are to begin preparations as early as Sunday to install a cooling system.

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Associated Press writer Shino Yuasa contributed to this report.

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GM likely to retake No. 1 sales spot from Toyota

FILE - This May 31, 2009 file photo shows a row of unsold 2009 Buick Lacrosse sedans at a General Motors dealership in the south Denver suburb of Englhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110422/ap_on_bi_ge/us_gm_back_on_top

By TOM KRISHER and SHARON SILKE CARTY, AP Auto Writers Tom Krisher And Sharon Silke Carty, Ap Auto Writers 20 mins ago

DETROIT – General Motors is almost certain to claim the title of world’s biggest automaker this year, retaking the top spot from Toyota, which has been hurt by production problems since the Japanese earthquake and still can’t escape the shadow of major safety recalls.

The No. 1 title, a morale booster for the winner’s employees and managers, would cap GM’s remarkable comeback from bankruptcy.

GM’s sales are up, mainly in China and the U.S, the world’s top two markets. Its cars are better than in the past, especially small ones.

But even though GM came within 30,000 sales of Toyota last year and began strong in 2011, any sales victory this year has more to do with Toyota’s problems.

First, a series of big recalls has ballooned to 14 million vehicles worldwide and damaged Toyota’s reputation for reliability. That has spurred loyal buyers to look at other brands.

Second, a March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan curbed Toyota’s car production. On Friday, Toyota Motor Corp. said its factories worldwide won’t return to full production until November or December. That means buyers across the globe may not be able to get the models they want. Already the crisis has cost the company production of 260,000 vehicles.

Last year, Toyota sold 8.42 million cars and trucks, barely ahead of a resurgent GM, which sold 8.39 million. GM held the No. 1 spot from 1932 until 2008.

Here’s why GM is almost a lock to retake the lead this year:

A BETTER GM: General Motors Co. was dysfunctional three years ago, hobbled by enormous debt and a giant bureaucracy. Its quality was suspect, it lost billions, and it had few products other than pickups that buyers found appealing. After a government bailout, a leaner GM emerged from a 2009 bankruptcy with new vehicles and a focus on Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. Since then, GM has come up with hits including the Chevrolet Equinox small SUV, the Buick LaCrosse luxury car, and the Chevrolet Cruze compact. Its quality is better. Sales so far this year are up 25 percent in the U.S. and 10 percent in China. The efficient Cruze compact and Chevrolet Volt car both hit the market as U.S. gasoline prices started rising.

TOYOTA TROUBLES: Bad publicity from the recalls, mainly for cars that can accelerate without warning, was hurting Toyota long before the earthquake. The recalls began late in 2009, and came just as GM, Ford, Hyundai, and others introduced more competitive cars and trucks. With a bunch of nice alternatives and doubts about quality, customers who once dutifully returned to Toyota started considering other brands. Many Toyota models look old and need upgrades. Despite rebates and low-interest financing, Toyota was the only major automaker with lower U.S. sales last year. Sales are up 12.5 percent so far in 2011, but only at half the growth of GM.

Toyota is scrambling to keep factories open after the earthquake, and U.S. dealers expect to run out of some models. Already dealers are reporting shortages of the Prius gas-electric hybrid, a high-demand model because of gas prices.

Merle Gothard, general manager of North Park Toyota in San Antonio, says he’s not worried about GM retaking the title because it still has a tarnished image from bankruptcy.

“It’s important from a marketing standpoint,” he says. “But Toyota has other things going for it.” He notes that Toyota is still profitable and never took a dime of stimulus money from the government.

THE CHINA FACTOR: Toyota has nowhere near GM’s presence in China, now the world’s largest auto market. Through March, Toyota sold 208,000 vehicles there, but GM and its joint ventures sold more than three times that number. Growth in China by itself probably would have moved GM ahead of Toyota in worldwide sales. Toyota’s lead was only about one day’s worth of sales for GM.

CAVEATS: Toyota still has a loyal customer base that believes the cars are safe and will last forever. Many Toyotas run for hundreds of thousands of miles with little more than routine maintenance. It also has a reputation for fuel efficiency, led by the Prius.

GM would have to run into major problems to let No. 1 slip away this year. So far it has not been seriously hurt by parts shortages, but if some key electronic components from Japan can’t be made elsewhere, the company could run short of models. A new management team also is pushing to speed up introduction of new models, and that could hurt quality.

If GM takes No. 1 this year, it won’t crow much, says Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights for TrueCar.com, an auto price tracking website.

“It’s because of (factory) capacity restrictions, and that’s not something they want to brag about,” he says.

Toyota resumes production at all Japan plants

Employees of Toyota Motor Corp. , arrive at a factory in Toyota, central Japan Monday, April 18, 2011. The company resumed production at all its Japanhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110418/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake_automakers

By SHINO YUASA, Associated Press Shino Yuasa, Associated Press 1 hr 9 mins ago

TOKYO – Toyota Motor Corp. resumed car production at all of its plants in Japan on Monday for the first time since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, but said the factories will run at half capacity due to parts shortages.

The world’s No. 1 automaker said it was still struggling to secure around 150 types of auto components. The magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami destroyed parts factories in northeastern Japan, causing severe shortages.

The twin disasters forced Toyota to shut down all output in Japan except at three plants, which have been running at limited capacity since late March and early April to produce hot-selling Prius, Lexus and Corolla cars.

The 900 workers at Toyota’s auto plant in Miyagi, one of the worst-hit areas in the disasters, observed a minute’s silence for tsunami victims before starting work Monday. The quake and tsunami left nearly 28,000 people dead or missing. In Miyagi alone, police said over 8,400 people have been killed.

Toru Kuzuhara, president of Toyota subsidiary Central Motor Co. Ltd., which operates the Miyagi plant, said he hoped the resumption of auto production would help spur reconstruction efforts in the tsunami-battered region.

“We will make top-quality cars and deliver them to many customers as early as possible. I believe this will lead to broader reconstruction efforts in Miyagi,” he said.

Yasuhiro Tadokoro, an official at the Miyagi plant, said he felt relieved that the factory was again running.

“Finally, we can operate our plant. I am so relieved that we can get back to work for the first time since the tsunami,” he said.

The Miyagi plant — Toyota’s newest auto factory in Japan — began operations in January. The plant suffered minor damage due to the quake, Tadokoro said. Toyota makes Yaris compact sedans at the Miyagi factory for export to North America.

Other Japanese automakers have also had to halt or slow operations in the wake of the disasters.

Honda’s operation in Britain has been running at 50 percent of planned weekly production since April 11 due to shortages of parts supplied from Japan, a cutback expected to last until the end of May. The company announced Friday that it was extending slowdowns at plants in Canada and the U.S. until at least early May.

Toyota will keep production at all its Japanese plants at half capacity until April 27, and then halt output from April 28 to May 9, a period that includes Golden Week holidays when factories would normally close.

The company will resume production in Japan from May 10 to June 3 at half of normal levels. Toyota has said it will make a decision in coming weeks about production plans beyond that period.

It remains unclear when Toyota will return to full production in Japan, Toyota spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto said. Last month’s disasters have caused Toyota a production loss of 260,000 cars, she said.

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Associated Press Business Writer David McHugh in Frankfurt contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110408/ap_on_re_as/as_japan_earthquake

By JAY ALABASTER and TOMOKO A. HOSAKA, Associated Press Jay Alabaster And Tomoko A. Hosaka, Associated Press 32 mins ago

SENDAI, Japan – Nearly a half-million homes suffered blackouts in Japan’s northeast Friday after a new earthquake killed three people and piled more misery on a region buried under the rubble of last month’s devastating tsunami.

The northeastern coast was still reeling from the destruction wrought by a jumbo 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11, with tens of thousands of households without power or water. The 7.1-magnitude aftershock Thursday threw even more areas into disarray and sent communities that had made some gains back to square one.

Gasoline was scarce again, and long lines formed at stations. Stores that had only recently restocked their shelves sold out of basics Friday and were forced to ration purchases again.

Still, the latest quake did far less damage, generated no tsunami and largely spared the region’s nuclear plants. Some slightly radioactive water spilled at one plant, but the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi complex reported no new problems.

Matsuko Ito, who has been living in a shelter in the small northeastern city of Natori since the tsunami, said there’s no getting used to the terror of being awoken by shaking. She said she started screaming when the quake struck around 11:30 p.m.

“It’s enough,” the 64-year-old while smoking a cigarette outside. “Something has changed. The world feels strange now. Even the way the clouds move isn’t right.”

The latest tremor — the strongest since the day of the tsunami — cut power to more homes, though it was quickly restored to many. More than 450,000 households were still without electricity Friday evening, said Souta Nozu, a spokesman for Tohoku Electric Power Co., which serves northern Japan. That includes homes in prefectures in Japan’s northwest that had been spared in the first quake.

Six conventional plants in the area were knocked out, though three have since come back online and the others should be up again within hours, Nozu said. But with power lines throughout the area damaged, it was not clear whether normal operations would be restored, he said.

In Ichinoseki, lines formed outside a supermarket when it opened Friday morning. An employee with a flashlight escorted each customer around the store and jotted the price of each selected item in a pad.

Most businesses were closed in the city, 240 miles (390 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo. One restaurant owner, Suzuki Koya, bought a small gas stove and made free meals in big boiling pot.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

“I saw the meat at the supermarket and I thought, ‘We should do a hot pot,'” the 47-year-old said. “It’s good to keep warm in times like these.”

Several nuclear power plants briefly switched to diesel generators but were reconnected to the grid by Friday afternoon. One plant north of Sendai briefly lost the ability to cool its spent fuel pools, but quickly got it back.

At a plant in Onagawa, some radioactive water splashed out of the pools but did not leave a containment building, Tohoku Electric said. Such splash-out is “not unusual, although it is preferable that it doesn’t happen,” according to Japanese nuclear safety agency official Tomoho Yamada.

“Closer inspection could find more problems,” said agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama, but no radiation was released into the environment at Onagawa.

The plant began leaking oil into the ocean in the first earthquake, and the flow escaped a containment boom in Thursday’s tremor but was contained again by Friday, coast guard spokesman Hideaki Takase said.

Thursday’s quake prompted a tsunami warning of its own, but it was later canceled. Three people were killed. A 79-year-old man died of shock and a woman in her 60s was killed when power was cut to her oxygen tank, national fire and disaster agency spokesman Junichi Sawada reported Friday. The third death was an 85-year-old man, according to a doctor at the Ishinomaki Red Cross Hospital. He declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

That pales in comparison to the original quake and tsunami, in which more than 25,000 people are believed to have died.

Many of those bodies have still not been found: A significant portion were likely washed out to sea and never will be, but some are buried in areas that have been largely off-limits to search teams.

As radiation spilling from the troubled Fukushima Dai-ichi plant has fallen in recent days, however, police have fanned out inside a no-go zone near the complex to dig for the dead.

On Friday, hundreds of police, many mobilized from Tokyo, used their hands or small shovels, pulling four bodies in an hour from one small area in the city of Minami Soma. The had found only five bodies the previous day.

The searchers, wearing white radiation gear and blue gloves, struggled to bring the remains across the rubble to vans and minibuses that would take them to the nearest morgue. Each body was carefully hosed off to rid it of radiation before being placed in the vehicles.

“The area is literally a mountain of debris. It is an extremely difficult task,” said an official with police in Fukushima prefecture who declined to be named because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The epicenter of Thursday’s temblor was in about the same location as the original 9.0-magnitude tremor, off the eastern coast and about 40 miles (65 kilometers) from Sendai, an industrial city on the eastern coast, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It was strong enough to shake buildings for about a minute as far away as Tokyo, about 200 miles (330 kilometers) away.

At a Toyota dealership in Sendai, most of a two-story show window was shattered, and thick shards of glass were heaped in front of the building. Police directed cars through intersections throughout the city on Friday because traffic lights were out. Small electrical fires were reported.

At the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, where nuclear workers have been toiling to plug radiation leaks and restore cooling systems ruined in the March 11 quake and tsunami, workers briefly retreated to a shelter and suffered no injuries. The plant operator said the tremor caused no new problems there.

Despite the new aftershock, automakers announced Friday that they were beginning to bounce back from the March monster. Toyota will resume car production at all its plants in Japan at half capacity from April 18 to 27.

The world’s No. 1 automaker said it remained unclear when it would return to full production in Japan.

Nissan also said it would start up domestic production at half capacity from April 11.

Operations had been halted at both companies because of part shortages.

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Associated Press writers Shino Yuasa, Malcolm Foster, Ryan Nakashima, Mari Yamaguchi and Cara Rubinsky in Tokyo, Eric Talmadge in Minami Soma, and Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/as_japan_earthquake

By SHINO YUASA and JAY ALABASTER, Associated Press Shino Yuasa And Jay Alabaster, Associated Press 11 mins ago

TOKYO – A suspected breach in the reactor at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant could mean more serious radioactive contamination, Japanese officials revealed Friday, as the prime minister called the country’s ongoing fight to stabilize the plant “very grave and serious.”

A somber Prime Minister Naoto Kan sounded a pessimistic note at a briefing hours after nuclear safety officials announced what could be a major setback in the urgent mission to stop the plant from leaking radiation, two weeks after a devastating earthquake and tsunami disabled it.

“The situation today at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant is still very grave and serious. We must remain vigilant,” Kan said. “We are not in a position where we can be optimistic. We must treat every development with the utmost care.”

The uncertain situation halted work at the nuclear complex, where dozens had been trying feverishly to stop the overheated plant from leaking dangerous radiation. The plant has leaked some low levels of radiation, but a breach could mean a much larger release of contaminants.

The possible breach in Unit 3 might be a crack or a hole in the stainless steel chamber of the reactor core or in the spent fuel pool that’s lined with several feet of reinforced concrete. The temperature and pressure inside the core, which holds the fuel rods, remained stable and was far lower than would further melt the core.

Suspicions of a possible breach were raised when two workers waded into water 10,000 times more radioactive than levels normally found in water in or around a reactor and suffered skin burns, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

Kan apologized to farmers and business owners for the toll the radiation has had on their livelihoods: Several countries have halted some food imports from areas near the plant after milk and produce were found to contain elevated levels of radiation.

He also thanked utility workers, firefighters and military personnel for “risking their lives” to cool the overheated facility.

The alarm Friday comes two weeks to the day since the magnitude-9 quake triggered a tsunami that enveloped cities along the northeastern coast and knocked out the Fukushima reactor’s cooling systems.

Police said the official death toll jumped past 10,000 on Friday. With the cleanup and recovery operations continuing and more than 17,400 listed as missing, the final number of dead was expected to surpass 18,000.

Click image to see photos of quake, tsunami damage

The nuclear crisis has compounded the challenges faced by a nation already saddled with a humanitarian disaster. Much of the frigid northeast remains a scene of despair and devastation, with Japan struggling to feed and house hundreds of thousands of homeless survivors, clear away debris and bury the dead.

A breach could mean a leak has been seeping for days, likely since the hydrogen explosion at Unit 3 on March 14. It’s not clear if any of the contaminated water has run into the ground. Radiation readings for the air were not yet available for Friday, but detections in recent days have shown no significant spike.

But elevated levels of radiation have already turned up in raw milk, seawater and 11 kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips. Tap water in several areas of Japan — including Tokyo — also showed radiation levels considered unsafe for infants, who are particularly vulnerable to cancer-causing radioactive iodine, officials said.

The scare caused a run on bottled water in the capital, and Tokyo municipal officials are distributing it to families with babies.

Previous radioactive emissions have come from intentional efforts to vent small amounts of steam through valves to prevent the core from bursting. However, releases from a breach could allow uncontrolled quantities of radioactive contaminants to escape into the surrounding ground or air.

Government spokesman Yukio Edano said “safety measures may not be adequate” and warned that may contribute to rising anxiety among people about how the disaster is being managed.

“We have to make sure that safety is secured for the people working in that area. We truly believe that is incumbent upon us,” the chief Cabinet secretary told reporters.

Edano said people living 12 to 20 miles (20 to 30 kilometers) from the plant should still be safe from the radiation as long as they stay indoors. But since supplies are not being delivered to the area fast enough, he said it may be better for residents in the area to voluntarily evacuate to places with better facilities.

“If the current situation is protracted and worsens, then we will not deny the possibility of (mandatory) evacuation,” he said.

NISA spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said later that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. was issued a “very strong warning” for safety violations and that a thorough review would be conducted once the situation stabilizes.

Meanwhile, damage to factories was taking its toll on the world’s third-largest economy and creating a ripple effect felt worldwide.

Nissan Motor Co. said it may move part of its engine production line to the United States because of damage to a plant.

The quake and tsunami are emerging as the world’s most expensive natural disasters on record, wreaking up to $310 billion in damages, the government said.

“There is no doubt that we have immense economic and financial damage,” Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said. “It will be our task how to recover from the damage.”

At Sendai’s port, brand new Toyota cars lay crushed in piles. At the airport, flooded by the tsunami on March 11, U.S. Marines used bulldozers and shovels to shift wrecked cars that lay scattered like discarded toys.

Still, there were examples of resilience, patience and fortitude across the region.

In Soma, a hard-hit town along the Fukushima prefecture coast, rubble covered the block where Hiroshi Suzuki’s home once stood. He watched as soldiers dug into mounds of timber had been neighbors’ homes in search of bodies. Just three bodies have been pulled out.

“I never expected to have to live through anything like this,” he said mournfully. Suzuki is one of Soma’s lucky residents, but the tsunami washed away the shop where he sold fish and seaweed.

“My business is gone. I don’t think I will ever be able to recover,” said Suzuki, 59.

Still, he managed to find a bright side. “The one good thing is the way everyone is pulling together and helping each other. No one is stealing or looting,” he said.

“It makes me feel proud to be Japanese.”

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Alabaster reported from Onagawa. Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach, Tomoko A. Hosaka, Kristen Gelineau, Jean H. Lee and Jeff Donn in Tokyo, Eric Talmadge in Soma and Johnson Lai in Sendai contributed to this report.

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