THE PRICE OF GLOBALIZED PAINT

I don't know why the chicken crossed the road, nor whether the chicken came before the egg. But I have learned that a new car can't roll down the road until paint is applied, and paint pigment definitely comes before paint.

I don’t know why the chicken crossed the road, nor whether the chicken came before the egg. But I have learned that a new car can’t roll down the road until paint is applied, and paint pigment definitely comes before paint.

Such is the zen of CortprateWorld’s delicate supply chain. Philosophy aside, Ford Motor Company recently announced that it cannot fill orders for black vehicles and must limit production of red ones. It’s a case of three “becauses” – Ford can’t deliver cars in these colors because it can’t acquire the pigment to mix the paint, because Ford’s pigments are made in Japan, which isn’t making any now because of its nuclear disaster.

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Who knew that America can’t even make paint anymore?

However, in the hazy, crazy maze of globalization, America does make some Japanese pick-up trucks, though this has suddenly become uncertain, too. Hino Motors of Japan has a factory in Arkansas that makes rear axles for Toyota’s Tundra trucks, which are assembled in San Antonio. But a 10-inch gear is a key component of the axles, and Hino imports this part from its factory in Japan, getting just-in-time deliveries of the gears to the Arkansas facility every other day. Unfortunately, the Japanese factory gets its power from the now-destroyed nuclear plant at Sendai, so no gears are being made.

Follow the bouncing ball here: With the Japanese-made gear unavailable, the Japanese company in Arkansas can’t assemble the axles for Toyota’s made-in-America Japanese truck, which means 2,800 workers in Texas could be idled.

A globalized supply chain is inherently splintery, and about a third of the world’s auto production is expected to be lost this year to the spasm in Japan. Why are we allowing a handful of corporate interests tie our economy to such a frangible system?

“Crises in Japan Ripple Across Global Economy,” The New York Times, March 21, 2011.

“Japan parts shortage could hit all automakers,” Austin American Statesman, March 25, 2011.

“Demands of Supply, The New York Times, March 24, 2011.

“Lacking Parts, G.M. Will Close Plant,” The New York Times, March 18, 2011.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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