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2013 Nissan Motor

August 27, 2013 Nissan Motor
Resiliency Company Ltd.: Building Operational William Schmidt, David Simchi-Levi On March 11, 2011 a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, among the five most powerful on record, struck off
the coast of Japan. Tsunami waves in excess of 40 meters high traveled up to 10 kilometers inland
and three nuclear reactors at Fukushima Dai-ichi experienced Level 7 meltdowns. The impact of this
combined disaster was devastating, with over 25,000 people dead, missing or injured.1 Governments,
non-government agencies, corporations and individuals in Japan and around the world responded with
relief teams, supplies and donations to help ease the suffering and support the recovery.2 In truth, the
disaster was three calamities in one – an earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear emergency. Recovering
from such a catastrophe was unprecedented.
The event was not just a humanitarian crisis, but also a heavy blow to the Japanese economy: 125,000
buildings were damaged and economic costs were expected to be ¥16.9 trillion.3 In the weeks
following the disaster, approximately 80% of Japanese automotive plants suspended production and
Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities estimated utilization at other plants were below 10%.4 1 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Japan,, accessed July 15, 2012. 2 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Japan,, accessed July 15, 2012. 3 Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Government of Japan,, accessed February 27, 2012.
4 Tsuyoshi Mochimaru, “Auto sector: Our Stance in Wake of Recent Earthquake,” Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co., Ltd., April 12, 2011. This case was prepared by David Simchi-Levi, MIT Professor of Civil and Enviornmental Engineering and Engineering
Systems and Co-Director, Leaders for Global Operations, and William Schmidt, PhD candidate, Harvard Business School.
Copyright © 2013, David Simchi-Levi and William Schmidt. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons AttributionNoncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San
William Schmidt, David Simchi-Levi Across the industry, monthly production dropped nearly 60% in March and April 2011 compared to
2010, and did not fully recover until October.5 Production for all of 2011 was down 9%.6
Markets outside of Japan were affected as well. Toyota, Honda and Nissan, the three major Japanese
automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEM), exported a significant amount of their Japanese
production to serve foreign markets (Exhibit 1). Declines in Japanese production impacted product
availability in those export markets. In addition, overseas production had expanded in recent years,
but only 70% – 80% of the production components were sourced locally with the remaining 20%
coming from Japan.7 Disruption to the Japanese supply base affected firms and factories around the
Toyota, Honda and Nissan were all impacted by the disaster (Exhibit 2). In particular, Nissan
suffered damage to six production facilities and about 50 of its critical suppliers were impaired.
Nevertheless, the company was prepared to withstand the shocks.
History of the Japanese Automotive Industry
Prior to the 1930’s the domestic automobile manufacturing capability in Japan was essentially limited
to military-sponsored initiatives, hand-built models and imported automotive kits.8 The industry’s
nascent steps toward mass production started in 1933 when Aikawa Yoshisuke established Jidosha
Seizo Company, the predecessor of Nissan Motor Company.9 Around the same time, Toyoda Kiichirō
established an automobile department within Toyoda Automatic Loom, which would eventually grow
into Toyota Motor Company.10 In spite of protectionist government policies restricting imports and
direct foreign investment, prior to World War II the Japanese subsidiaries of Ford and General
Motors dominated the automobile industry in Japan. After the war, Nissan and Toyota were hobbled
by low production productivity and were at risk of slipping into bankruptcy if not for a combination
of huge governmental loans and special orders from the United States Army during the Korean War.11
Japanese automotive firms initially relied heavily on technology transfer from the United States and
Europe. Toyota was more aggressive in developing internal research and development capabilities, a
strategy eventually adopted by other Japanese automobile manufacturers.12 Japanese automotive
manufacturers also concentrated on process improvements, with Toyota being an early innovator. In
5 “Japan Production by Month, 2005-2011,” WardsAuto Group, 2012. 6 Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 Koichi Shimokawa, The Japanese Automobile Industry: A Business History (London: Atlantic Highlands, NJ, Athlone Press, 2001). 9 Nissan Motor Company,, accessed August 3, 2012. 10 Michael A. Cusumano, The Japanese Automobile Industry: Technology and Management at Nissan and Toyota (Cambridge, MA., Published by the Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1985).
William Schmidt, David Simchi-Levi the late 1940’s through the early 1960’s, Toyota transitioned away from push manufacturing
techniques that were ubiquitous in the United States automobile industry. The firm reduced buffer
stocks and instead adopted the principles of just-in-time manufacturing. Raw materials and work-inprocess were no longer pushed from early production stages to final assembly, but were instead
pulled forward only when needed. Components were produced and received in lots as small as
possible, with no stockpiling and Toyota modified its equipment to allow for rapid set-up so it could
be quickly transitioned to different jobs.13
The manufacturing principles pioneered by Toyota were also adopted, in varying degrees, by other
manufacturers inside Japan and globally. Toyota remained at the vanguard of refining and
formalizing these principles into what would eventually be known as the Toyota Production System
(TPS). TPS required close coordination across manufacturing processes and helped identify problems
that could otherwise go unnoticed in a system with a larger buffer. The system, however, was not risk
free. If something disturbed the flow of information or material, it could idle manufacturing stages
downstream of the disturbance.
The Japanese automotive industry began to hit its stride. By the late 1960’s, both Toyota and Nissan
had rapidly increased both their production and exports. By the late 1970’s, exports accounted for
over 50% of Japanese production and by 1980 Japan overtook the United States as the world’s top
automobile producing country.14 Japanese automobile companies began building manufacturing
facilities in North America, with Honda, Nissan and Toyota moving first and Mazda, Mitsubishi,
Suzuki, and Isuzu eventually following. The rapid appreciation of the yen after agreements made at
the G-5 meeting in September 1985 led to further expansion of foreign production in both advanced
and developing countries.15 The three largest Japanese firms globalized their operations at different
paces, however, with Honda and Nissan expanding their foreign manufacturing footprint much more
aggressively than Toyota.16
Nissan’s Supply Chain Philosophy: A Focus on Flexibility
In contrast to the close supply chain control that is a hallmark of TPS, Nissan leveraged a regional,
decentralized supply chain structure, but imposed strong central control and coordination when crises
affecting global operations occurred. Maintaining a flexible organization and integrating a variety of
perspectives were important cultural attributes at the company. As an indication of the way the firm
embraced diversity, Nissan’s corporate officers represented a range of nationalities and most of them
had extensive experience in overseas operations – traits that were not shared by other Japanese 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid. 16 Ibid. August 27, 2013 3 NISSAN MOTOR COMPANY LTD.: BUILDING OPERATIONAL RESILIENCY
William Schmidt, David Simchi-Levi OEM’s.17 Nissan considered this diversity to be a source of strength in managing a large global
operation and it valued that the executive team could speak first-hand to the unique constraints and
opportunities that were present in each market.18
Complementing this focus on flexibility, Nissan maintained a simplified product line compared to its
competitors. The company adopted a build-to-stock strategy for just a few SKUs in each model and a
build-to-order strategy for the rest. Management believed that this strategy had not only helped it to
simplify its operations and product offerings, but it actually contributed to a significant increase in
sales. As explained by John Martin,19 the company’s SVP of manufacturing, purchasing and supply
chain management:
Nissan was a company reborn from crisis. In 1999 Nissan was rescued from impending
bankruptcy by Renault who put in place a revitalized management team led by Carlos Ghosn.
This sense of crisis persists in the organization to this day. This ‘crisis mentality’ was critical to
our recovery from the 2007/2008 Global Liquidity Crisis, the Great Japan Earthquake and
subsequent Thai Floods in 2011. Our supply chain philosophy is one of vigilance and extreme
responsiveness allied with single point responsibility. It is the supply chain management
organization’s responsibility to keep the production plants running. This clarity of purpose and
responsibility engenders confidence and decisiveness both of which are crucial to disaster
Risk Management at Nissan
Nissan’s attitudes toward risk and emergency response emerged through the company’s experience in
overcoming daunting challenges. In 1999 the company faced severe financial difficulties that were
only resolved when it formed an alliance with Renault. Under the terms of the alliance, Renault
bought 36.8% of Nissan’s outstanding stock and Nissan agreed to buy into Renault when it was
financially able to do so.20 This deal forced Nissan to confront entrenched practices and biases and to
take proactive action to ensure the company’s survival and ultimate success. (See Exhibit 3 for
financial performance.)
Nissan’s risk management philosophy was born out of its near-death experience. It focused on
identifying and analyzing risks as early as possible, and planning and rapidly implementing
countermeasures. The company established a dedicated risk management function which was
responsible for these activities. There was also an executive-level committee that made decisions on
corporate risks, designated “risk owners” to manage the specific risks, and regularly reported to the 17 Interview with John Martin, February 25, 2012. 18 Interview with John Martin, May 28, 2012. 19 At the time of the crisis John Martin served as Corporate Vice President for Nissan’s Global Supply Chain division in Japan. 20 Nissan eventually bought a 15% stake in Renault. Renault has subsequently increased its stake in Nissan to 44.4%. August 27, 2013 4 NISSAN MOTOR COMPANY LTD.: BUILDING OPERATIONAL RESILIENCY
William Schmidt, David Simchi-Levi Board of Directors on progress. Each division was empowered and expected to take preventive
measures to minimize the realization and impact of risks that did not require corporate coordination.
Nissan’s continuous readiness process included activities such as ongoing seismic reinforcement of
facilities, improvement to its business continuity planning (BCP), and disaster simulation training.21
Nissan had an earthquake emergency-response plan in place well in advance of the 2011 earthquake,
which was described in its 2010 annual report (Exhibit 4).22 The principles of Nissan’s emergencyresponse plan included a priority on human life, prevention of follow-on disasters, rapid disaster
recovery and business continuity, and support for the neighboring community, companies, and
government. It designated a Global Disaster Headquarters that, in the aftermath of a disaster, was
responsible for gathering and distributing information concerning employee safety, facility damage,
and business continuity planning for Nissan’s operations and those of its suppliers. In addition, the
plan required that Nissan conduct earthquake simulation training to test and improve upon the
effectiveness of the organization and its contingency plan.
Nissan’s Response to the Disaster
Nissan’s actions after the earthquake and tsunami adhered to the principles detailed in its earthquake
emergency-response plan. Immediately after the disaster, Nissan’s Global Disaster Control
Headquarters, headed up by the chief operating officer, was convened to evaluate the impact on
operations and to oversee the restoration of activities. A Recovery Committee was established to
coordinate the global recovery actions, in particular the work of optimizing the entire supply chain.
As Nissan’s Chief Recovery Officer Colin Dodge wrote in the company’s 2011 Annual Report,
The impact on our business [of the disaster] was felt in all regions. Nissan’s manufacturing
operations are thoroughly global in nature, and disruption to the supply structure in Japan spreads
quickly through our supply chain all around the world. In the past months Nissan has been
implementing countermeasures in every region where it does business.
In Europe, for example, where we maintain production bases in the United Kingdom, Spain and
Russia, we took steps immediately after the quake to ensure supplies of needed parts. The
European regional team worked closely with the Japan side to share information about the status
of the Japan-sourced parts supply, swiftly reflecting these updates in the regional supply side. The
level of depth and accuracy of this information sharing has been truly amazing. It has allowed us
to constantly update our regional production forecast, so that we can align our production
calendar with conditions in production sites in Japan.23 21 Nissan 2011 Annual Report. 22 While similar response plans may have been in place at Honda and Toyota, neither organization provided visibility of them in their annual reports. 23 Ibid. August 27, 2013 5 NISSAN MOTOR COMPANY LTD.: BUILDING OPERATIONAL RESILIENCY
William Schmidt, David Simchi-Levi The Recovery Committee emphasized a few simple yet meaningful practices in coordinating the
company’s response to the disaster:
1. Sharing information – Nissan brought all of their global regions into the response process.
Management recognized that the non-Japanese operations would want information, but the
effort to provide it would be a distraction to those on the ground handling the crisis. They
also recognized information might be used selfishly by dependent facilities optimizing
against its own needs. To address these two concerns, each region was asked to send two staff
members to Japan to gather their own information and to help solve problems holistically.
Instead of becoming a drain on the local response effort, the other regions and plants
contributed to solutions. In addition, the regions had complete visibility into what was
happening in Japan and could help the organization improve the response.
2. Allocating supply – Given the capacity constraints in the weeks and months after the
disaster, and the dependencies that existed across the Nissan operational network, allocation
of component parts was critical. The sales, marketing, and the regional supply chain
management functions were brought together to identify how to globally allocate supplies to
focus on highest margin goods. For example the supply of integrated Global Positioning
System (GPS) units was constrained by the disaster. Nissan identified which car models
required integrated GPS to meet customer demands, and allocated resources accordingly.
Low-end models did not receive the allocation of available GPS since they did not have
commensurately high margins, and customers were willing to purchase those models without
an integrated GPS. This process was completed within two weeks of the earthquake and
continually updated as the supply situation became clearer.
3. Managing production – Nissan slowed their production lines in a targeted way.
Management closely considered in-stock and in-transit inventory within their network and
slowed production upstream and downstream of anticipated bottlenecks. For example, the
company was able to ramp down production, and thereby decrease costly overtime, for
operations that were expected to be bottlenecked. Management also pulled vacation time into
April and May in order to free up capacity later in the summer when upstream bottlenecks
were projected to have cleared.
The company used the time bought by having in-transit inventory to identify and implement
supply alternatives. For example, the lead-time for ocean transport from Japan to the west
coast of the United States was 15 days, plus five days to move material to plants in Tennessee
and Mississippi. This meant that management had as many as 20 days to identify how to
access alternative supplies of critical components. They were also able to secure air freight
out of Japan so they could get critical parts out of the country faster and mitigate the
reduction of in-transit stocks.
William Schmidt, David Simchi-Levi 4. Empowering action – Nissan emphasized rapid and flexible action. Management was
empowered to make decisions in the field without lengthy analysis from a central authority.
To speed critical decision-making process on recovery-related issues, the company modified
its delegation of authority rules for a limited period. The decisions were iterated upon as new
information surfaced so that the company could course correct, if necessary. As Nissan’s
Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga explained,
The disaster response simulations we have carried out regularly served us particularly
well. By envisioning a full range of potential situations arising from a major disaster and
preparing for them, we successfully enabled ourselves to take prompt actions when the
time came.
At a time of disaster, it is essential to make speedy decisions while grasping the latest
situation, including details on employees’ safety and damage caused, and to take
appropriate actions based on this. We launched the Global Disaster Control Headquarters
just 15 minutes after the earthquake occurred. The team immediately gathered and
assessed damage while overseeing restoration efforts at various facilities.24
Recovery by the Big Three Japanese Auto Manufacturers
In the six months following the earthquake, production across all auto manufacturers in Japan
declined 24.3% compared to forecast.25 The big three Japanese manufacturers each contended with
different issues associated with the disaster. Toyota had significant exposure due to its large size and
its high rate of Japanese production (including for export). Nissan had several plants in close
proximity to the disaster area. While Honda was partly insulated due to its large localized U.S.
production, recovery from the disaster was still slow. Honda attributed its production problems to
constraints in its supply chain,26 a problem that Nissan had successfully insulated itself from. As
Nissan’s Chief Financial Officer Joseph Peter remarked,
Most of the steps we have taken in response to the March 11 disaster have been continuations of
strategies, priorities and plans that were already in place. One example of this is the localization
strategy we have been pursuing to better balance our manufacturing and sourcing footprint to our
sales footprint. Our actions in this area date back to the start of the financial crisis in 2008, when
our primary objectives were to reduce volatility from foreign currency movements, particularly
the appreciating yen, and to reduce cost.27 24 Ibid. 25 “Japan Production by Month, 2005-2011,” WardsAuto Group, 2012. 26 Q2 2012 Honda Motor Co Ltd Earnings Presentation. 27 Ibid. August 27, 2013 7 NISSAN MOTOR COMPANY LTD.: BUILDING OPERATIONAL RESILIENCY
William Schmidt, David Simchi-Levi Going Forward
In January 2012, Nissan announced that it would increase the localized production of its cars in the
Americas from approximately 70% to 90% by 2015.28 The company also set aggressive targets to
reduce its reliance on Japanese-made components in its foreign factories. For instance, the company
was hoping to reduce the number of components brought in to North America from Japan by 50% by
the end of fiscal 2013.29 The company, according to Peter, was also making a concerted effort to
better understand critical dependencies that exist within its supply chain beyond the first tier of
We are learning fresh lessons from the earthquake, too. Moving forward we will be modifying
our purchasing process to enhance our business continuity plan at the parts level, particularly for
critical components, and to mitigate potential supply risk concentration beyond the Tier 1 level.
These are evolutionary kaizen changes, though, as opposed to fundamental shifts in our sourcing
As COO Shiga pointed out, despite its preparedness, Nissan had work to do to be even better
protected the next time disaster struck:
Many challenges still lie ahead. Some parts suppliers have yet to restore their operations. Our
supply chain requires rehabilitation. This experience has instructed us in the necessity of an
actionable BCP (business continuity plan) that encompasses all our suppliers, including those in
the second and third tiers. Development of a more robust supply chain and comprehensive risk
management are imperative in making our business more sustainable.31 Case Discussion Questions
4. The case identifies several aspects of the Nissan response that were particularly beneficial.
Expand on the points made in the case to identify the potential costs and benefits of these actions.
What else could Nissan have done to prepare for and respond to the disaster? Try to articulate the
costs and benefits of your suggestions.
What could Nissan have done to assess the risk of disruption in their supply chain?
How did Nissan’s product line strategy help or hurt its ability to respond to and recover from the
disaster? 28 Chester Dawson, “Nissan Aims to Boost North American Production,” The Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2012. 29 Ibid. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid. August 27, 2013 8 NISSAN MOTOR COMPANY LTD.: BUILDING OPERATIONAL RESILIENCY
William Schmidt, David Simchi-Levi 5. How will the operational changes announced in 2012 affect Nissan’s exposure to future
disruptions? How will it affect its steady-state operations? What trade-offs is management
William Schmidt, David Simchi-Levi Exhibit 1 Production to Sales Ratios for Select Japanese OEMs Source: Chester Dawson and Neal E. Boudette, “Too Big in Japan, Toyota Struggles,” Wall Street Journal, May 12, 2011. Exhibit 2 Initial Damage Reports from Major Japanese Automotive OEMs Company
Nissan Motor Toyota Motor Honda Motor
Mazda Motor
Suzuki Motor Damage status
ü Fires broke out at Tochigi Factory and a foundry in Iwaki ü Damage to the Tochigi Factory, Iwaki Factory (engines), Yokohama Factory (engines, etc.), Oppama Factory and Zama Works (lithium-­‐ion batteries, etc.)
ü It will take some time before the Iwaki Factory is repaired
ü Partially damaged facilities at the Iwate Factory (subsidiary Kanto Auto Works), Miyagi Factory(subsidiary Central Motor), and Tohoku Factory (parts)
ü Some damage in to facilities in Tochigi Prefecture
ü No major direct impact
ü No major direct impact Source: Kohei Takahashi, “Autos and Auto Parts,” J.P. Morgan Equity Research, March 22, 2011. August 27, 2013 10 NISSAN MOTOR COMPANY LTD.: BUILDING OPERATIONAL RESILIENCY
William Schmidt, David Simchi-Levi Exhibit 3 Select Nissan Financials, 2009-2011, (millions of yen) Revenue
Cost of Goods Sold
Gross Profit
Operating Expenses
Sales, General & Administrative
Operating Income
Net non-operating income
Net special gains (losses)
Earnings Before Taxes
Total Income Taxes
Income (loss) attributable to
minority interests
Net Income 2009 2010 2011 8,436,974
1,318,112 7,517,277
1,371,058 8,773,093
1,617,993 1,456,033
36,938 1,059,449
(66,127) 1,080,526
537,467…Read moreView the entire interaction

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