Japan auto industry seeks to avoid suspending operations, but worker safety priority

A man works among imported cars covered with a white cloth in a port in Yokohama

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's car industry will try to avoid suspending operations during the coronavirus pandemic, but worker safety takes priority, said its automakers' association, adding the industry was considering financial support for struggling firms.

Japanese carmakers have suspended some production operations at home, while most of their plants abroad have been shut as demand for cars has slumped and lockdowns and "shelter at home" orders have kept plant employees away from work.

"So long as there is demand, and it is safe for workers to work, we would like to see the country's plants remain in operation," Akio Toyoda, chairman of the Japan Automotive Manufacturers' Association, told a media conference.

He added that the Japanese auto industry should preserve as many jobs as possible to ensure that automakers and their suppliers would be prepared to resume full operation for an eventual recovery from the virus outbreak.

Toyoda, who also serves as president of Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T>, said that automakers along with vehicle components, autobody and machine tools makers were considering setting up a fund to offer financial support to struggling companies.

Like their global rivals, Japanese automakers are struggling to contain the impact of the virus, preserving cash where they can and seeking additional funding.

Toyota and Nissan Motor Co <7201.T> have tapped their lenders for additional credit lines, sources from both companies have told Reuters.

(Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Michael Perry)