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Australian car market unaffected by wharf action

Wait: One of the car carriers at anchor in Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay.

Japan quake reduces effect of vehicle shipment delays caused by wharf dispute

General News logo9 May 2011

THE local car industry appears to have been largely unaffected by industrial action taking place on Australian wharves, thanks to the reduced number of ships arriving from tsunami-ravaged Japan.

However, Ford, Holden and Nissan in New Zealand have cited the delay of ships from Australia as a factor in slow sales for April across the Tasman.

As GoAuto reported last month, several vehicle-carrying ships were stranded in Port Phillip Bay due to the industrial dispute between the Maritime Union of Australia and Patrick, which operates Webb Dock East in Melbourne.

But the expected backlog of ships waiting to unload has been heavily reduced by disrupted production that resulted from the March 11 natural disaster in Japan.

Of the Japanese manufacturers hit by the post-earthquake production crisis, Toyota has been one of the worst affected, with Japanese production reduced to about 50 per cent.

Toyota’s plants in Thailand and the US are running at only 30 per cent and its Australian facility at Altona in Victoria is operating on half-day shifts.

In addition, Toyota’s Japanese production facilities have been closed since April 22 for their annual spring holiday.

 center imageFrom top: A ship caught up in the wharf action, a Toyota Camry prepares for export, Subaru Impreza.

Toyota Australia media and communications manager Laura Hill told GoAuto: “Because we are not getting that many shipments in at the moment, (the industrial dispute) might not be having that big an effect,” she said.

“I think it’s a good time, in a sense. We have had a bit of breathing space with Japan being on holiday so that is giving us enough time to get on top of other things.”

Ms Hill said that Toyota’s exports of the locally-built Camry and Aurion had not been impacted because they leave from Webb Dock West, which was not affected by the industrial dispute.

Toyota in New Zealand has cut its marketing spend to offset the expected supply shortage, but Ms Hill said the Australian operation had not yet planned to do the same.

“What we are doing at the moment is working with the dealers to make the most of the current stock that we have and the lower volumes of shipments that we are receiving in a kind of fair share policy, trying to make sure that all the dealers get as much as they can from the lower shipments,” she said.

“At this point in time we are just working with our dealers and, as much as anything, keeping them informed with any news we’re getting from Japan.”

Mazda Australia public relations manager Steve Maciver said the company is confident it can maintain “business as usual” thanks to having “plenty” of stock landed and in transit.

In addition, Mr Maciver said Mazda Australia has managed to secure “pretty good” supplies over the next few months.

“In regards to shipping and action by guys on the wharf, it hasn’t had an effect on us, so no issues there,” said Mr Maciver.

Mitsubishi, which has just had its best first quarter since it became a full importer following the closure of its Adelaide factory in March 2008, is now confident that the impact of both the earthquake and industrial action will be lower than originally envisaged.

Mitsubishi Motors Australia head of corporate communications Lenore Fletcher told GoAuto its Japanese parent company Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) “appears to be going to great lengths to minimise any disruptions that we might experience”.

Ms Fletcher added that, while fewer ships are coming in at the moment, the brand tends to receive its vehicles “all in one hit rather than coming in smaller shipments”, with the effect that the wharf action is “not having a huge impact”.

Nissan Australia, also riding high this year with sales up 12.8 per cent year-to-date, reported that it has not suffered any major disruption or stock shortages due to the industrial dispute but that the Japanese situation will impact it slightly this quarter, although all plants in Japan have now resumed full production.

Subaru’s sales are down 1.8 per cent YTD and its popular Forester, which is the brand’s best-seller and regularly Australia’s favourite compact SUV, came perilously close to losing its crown to the Hyundai ix35 last month.

Subaru Australia national corporate affairs manager David Rowley told us that limited production has resumed in Japan, although there is no news on when it will return to full production.

Mr Rowley said supplies are coming through and the company is holding stock, though “not in some cases at the level we would normally like”.

Subaru ran out of naturally-aspirated Imprezas in April because it started the month with only 500 in stock against an average monthly demand of about 1100 units.

While Impreza shipments are expected this month and next, Mr Rowley suggested that intending buyers should contact dealers because supply of that particular model continues to be limited.

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