In the past two weeks, car sales have plummeted by 45%, simply because automakers have been offering some incentives for new cars at more than $ 7,000.
A growing list of car makers is hoping to restart assembly lines – some this week – when manufacturers are struggling to keep sales from falling sharply.
54 automatic assembly lines – along with hundreds of plant parts – stopped in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic range became more and more visible.
As the sales of new cars dry up, it didn’t matter much over the past month. But when sales begin to revive, according to a new report by J.D. Power, manufacturers want to be able to meet the reviving demand of consumers.
Kia, Volkswagen and Mercedes start operations on Monday, and Honda takes people back to the factory by May 1. Fiat Chrysler and Ford are to formally start operations on May 4, and GM has also begun to advise employees that I will be coming back next week. Tesla, Toyota, Hyundai, BMW and Volvo should also start on May 4. Subaru is planned for May 11.
However, the reopening process will not be like switching a switch. As automakers have noted, it will take some time for everyone to get used to the new system layout and processes.
The main challenge will be ensuring that employees can take their place on assembly lines without having to fear contracting life-threatening COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Hundreds have already done so, with various manufacturers, including Fiat Chrysler and Ford, reporting a series of deaths.
“There is no return to normality in the foreseeable future. We have to adapt to the new normal, “said Chris Reynolds, Toyota’s managing director for manufacturing operations in North America. The May 4 restart date is” an opening day, not the day we are going to start. to make cars, “he said.
The Japanese automaker has a network of parts and assembly plants in the Midwest and South, and when it began reporting to workers next week, they took some measures to protect workers. Sean Suggs, president of Toyota’s large assembly plant in Mississippi, said the workstations have been redesigned to extend the distance between workers. Even the cafeteria was redesigned, and plastic plates were installed between the sinks in the factory’s bathroom.
At the same time, production line workers will wear personal protective equipment (PPE) similar to those currently used in hospitals, including masks and even face masks. Even before entering the factory, they will be asked about their health and body temperature.
Suggs said Toyota is working with other car makers to exchange best practices in protecting line workers. Volkswagen, which plans to reopen the Chattanooga assembly line on May 3, said it has taken 90 different steps to protect employees. The Detroit Big Three announced similar measures to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
“You have to assume that everyone (at the plant) is infected,” said David Yanez, operations director of PTI QCS, a quality control company working with many car manufacturers to meet the challenges of building a car during a pandemic. “Our culture must now first and foremost be about security. If employees do not feel safe, it can disrupt the entire production chain. “
“You must assume that everyone (in the plant) is infected. Our culture must now first and foremost be about security. If employees do not feel safe, it can disrupt the entire production chain. “
Nevertheless, Toyota Suggs admitted: “There is a really good chance that we will have a positive case again.”
It’s a thought that worries Julie Classen, a line veteran at the Ford factory in Michigan. She was one of the many employees at the truck factory who were hit by COVID-19 last month. Classen has largely recovered and expects him to be called back early next month.
Karen has shown Ford some of the steps that Ford plans to take, but “it ’s hard to believe they will actually make it safe enough”, although she agrees it will help “allocate more work” Direct contacts are less likely. She also worried about how it would feel to try work while wearing all protective equipment, especially in summer, factories like her may become very hot.
For now, automakers will let go, at least if they get approval from the state that initiated the lock. One of the challenges they face is the high degree of integration in the North American automotive industry, so a parts plant closed in one state may idle assembly lines in another state. This was recently emphasized when the tornado severely damaged the BorgWarner plant in South Carolina. This may delay the start-up time for some Ford and Fiat Chrysler plants to use their parts as pickups.