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Earthquake adds stress to model launches

Automotive News reports on how the Japanese earthquake and tsunami is affecting new models launches.

2012 Nissan GT-R
U.S. sales of the 2012 GT-R start this month.
2012 Nissan GT-R
Nissan GT-R: Seventy percent of U.S. allotment is here or in transit. Nissan

Introducing a new or redesigned vehicle is stressful enough. But the Japanese earthquake puts several launches under the shadow of possible parts shortages, factory shutdowns, schedule interruptions, and shipping worries.

In all cases, automakers have stated that no delays or interruptions are expected. But program managers accustomed to executing smooth launches on strict timetables now have the added stress of factors beyond their control.

Here are some of the high-profile introductions that must side-step problems:

Honda Civic: The redesigned model, scheduled to be launched in April, will be built in North America using mostly North American parts. But key components and some subcomponents come from Japan. Honda's Japanese supply chain has been jumbled to the point that American Honda Motor Co. has stopped taking dealer orders for all Japan-built vehicles.

Infiniti M35 Hybrid: Infiniti's first hybrid, a key new halo car for a brand on a roll, is being advertised heavily during the NCAA basketball tournament. But the quake halted production of Infinitis, and some of the new hybrids may have been among approximately 1,300 Infinitis destroyed by the tsunami at the port of Hitachi.

Lexus CT 200h: The new low-end luxury hybrid was launched this month. Some cars already are in dealerships, and more are in transit. But like Infiniti, Lexus gave the hybrid a big advertising push this month, raising the stakes on available dealer inventories of the model.

Mazda3: The earthquake found Mazda's highest-volume product in the midst of a facelift for a scheduled introduction in August. The model also is in last-minute evaluations for a new engine.

Nissan GT-R: Nissan's $90,000-plus four-seat sports car is produced in such low volumes that 70 percent of the 2012-model allotment already is in the United States or on the way as sales begin, Nissan says. But this year's minor makeover and performance upgrades are important to pitching Nissan as a serious sports car maker.

Nissan Leaf: Nissan already was fending off complaints that it was taking too long to deliver the first electric Leafs to eager U.S. consumers as it cautiously ramped up production in Japan. Nissan now says there will be additional delays in getting the cars out of Japan because of the earthquake.

Nissan Quest: Nissan re-entered the U.S. minivan market only last month with its redesigned Japan-built Quest. The disaster closed the van's Shatai Kyushu assembly plant until March 24. Lingering uncertainties about parts make the schedule uncertain.

Scion iQ: Prelaunch work on the Scion iQ minicar is being done to get it to dealers as early as June. Toyota says no delay is anticipated.

Subaru Impreza: Subaru had been planning to move up the fall introduction of the next-generation Japan-built Impreza coupe, getting the car to dealers as early as the summer. It is not clear whether the disaster has foiled that plan.

Toyota Prius V: The new wagon version of the Prius hybrid is scheduled to arrive this summer. The Japan launch, originally planned for the end of April, has been postponed by a parts shortage related to the quake. But Toyota officials say there has been no change in its U.S. launch schedule.

(Source: Automotive News)