UPDATE 2-Japan March auto sales slump in quake aftermath

* Biggest monthly fall in 37 years

* Toyota sales, excluding Lexus, slides 46 pct

* Nissan down 38 pct, Honda falls 28 pct

(Adds PMI, Tankan results, Toyoda comments)

By James Topham

TOKYO, April 1 (Reuters) – Vehicle sales in Japan fell by
more than a third in March as a devastating earthquake, tsunami
and resultant nuclear crisis wreaked havoc on assembly plants,
parts manufacturers and the global supply chain.

Sales, excluding 660cc minivehicles, fell 37 percent for the
industry overall, and industry leader Toyota Motor Corp
saw sales for the month tumble 46 percent, the Japan Automobile
Dealers Association said on Friday.

It was the industry’s biggest monthly percentage fall since
February 1974.

Nissan Motor Co’s Japan sales slumped 38 percent
and Honda Motor Co retreated 28 percent. The figure for
Toyota excluded the Lexus brand.

The latest numbers give the first indication of how Japan’s
car makers are faring in their home market after the March 11
earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeast Japan and
triggered power outages and the worst nuclear crisis since
Chernobyl.

Many of Japan’s auto plants are closed in the wake of the
disaster, unable to get parts from suppliers.

All but two of 18 factories that assemble Toyota and Lexus
vehicles in Japan remain idle.

Toyota Motor Corp President Akio Toyoda said on Friday that
the devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan would
hurt the company’s earnings, but said that was not on his list
of priorities.

“We’re not thinking about numbers right now,” Toyoda said at
the company’s headquarters in Toyota City, adding he could not
estimate the scope of the impact.

Deutsche Securities this week slashed its forecast for
Toyota’ operating profit by 84 percent to $1.7 billion for the
current business year due to production outages. [ID:nL3E7ES0AZ]

Toyoda repeated the company’s stance that it is uncertain
when it can resume full production after the March 11 disaster
disrupted its supply chain.

Honda and Mazda Motor Corp said on Thursday they
would resume some production in Japan.

Honda said it would resume production of parts for overseas
use on April 4 and production at all its car factories on April
11. Honda also said production cuts at its plants in the United
States and Canada would last through April 15.

Mazda Motor Corp said it plans to restart limited production
of vehicles from April 4 at its Hiroshima and Hofu plants. A
decision on the resumption of full-scale production of both
parts and vehicles has not been made.

PMI RECORD DECLINE

As might be expected, Japanese manufacturing activity
slumped to a two-year low in March and posted its steepest
monthly decline on record after the disaster disrupted supply
chains and production operations, a survey showed on Thursday.

The Markit/JMMA Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers
Index (PMI) fell to a seasonally adjusted 46.4 in March, the
lowest since April 2009 and down from February’s 52.9. The data
provided one of the first quantitative assessments of the severe
damage to production from the March 11 quake and tsunami in
northeast Japan, which triggered a nuclear safety crisis and
widespread power shortages.

“The impact from the power outage, supply chain disruption
and a halt of many factories’ activity after the quake is large.
There is a possibility that the PMI index will further weaken,”
said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research
Institute in Tokyo.

“It is a major issue now how the nuclear crisis develops,
and stock market players are also closely watching it. The
outlook for business activity depends on progress in
reconstruction and recovery.”

The Bank of Japan’s closely watched Tankan survey showed
Japanese manufacturers’ business sentiment improved slightly in
the three months to March, but analysts anticipate a downturn in
confidence this quarter because of the disaster.

The BOJ’s quarterly Tankan survey showed the headline index
for big manufacturers’ sentiment improved to plus 6 in March
from plus 5 in December, compared with a median market forecast
of plus 7.

But 72 percent of replies for the survey came in before the
earthquake, which means it did not much reflect the impact of
the earthquake, the tsunami and the world’s worst atomic crisis
in 25 years.

(Editing by Matt Driskill and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

UPDATE 2-Japan March auto sales slump in quake aftermath