While many aspects of the novel coronavirus remain unknown, one thing that is becoming abundantly clear is that COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on the automotive industry. Economic and social factors have already impacted shopping patterns, and with the spread of the disease, manufacturers expect significant supply chain disruptions. At this point, the industry is bracing for a substantial financial blow. From suspending production to retooling lines, the COVID-19 pandemic has OEMs taking proactive steps to weather the storm.
Working from Home
As with many other businesses, OEMs are asking all employees who can to work from home. General Motors, Ford, and others have issued statements informing employees and contract workers to move their work as much as they can to their homes. Doing so helps minimize disruptions, as well as allows companies to focus on cleaning, health, and human resource services on points of operation that cannot leave their premises.
On top of that, companies are following CDC recommendations, telling employees to stay home if they experience any flu-like symptoms. Many are barring outside visitors and air travel in hopes of keeping the virus out of their facilities.
Across the board, OEMs are responding to COVID-19 with suspensions. Some of these are proactive; others comply with government regulations. Most cite market conditions, safety precautions, and deep cleaning in statements referring to the suspensions.
On the 18th, GM began its suspension of all North American operations. Ford announced it would start suspending work in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico after the last shift on the 30th. Ford has already suspended manufacturing in Europe, India, Thailand, and South Africa as part of their effort to stem coronavirus spread. Honda has also temporarily shut down production, though they have estimated they will reopen on April 7th.
Other OEMs are varying this strategy, rolling their suspensions or altering shifts to meet both health and market demands. Nissan has adjusted schedules at three Japanese plants in response to COVID-19. It is possible that when others reopen, they will take a similar approach.
Worker health and safety are top concerns for all OEMs. For factories still in production, companies are adopting strict measures to help prevent infection. This includes stepping up sanitizing procedures for all high traffic areas and adopting social distancing procedures.
Ford, GM, and FCA have joined with the UAW to implement further standards for worker safety. “We are focused on doing the right thing for our people, their families, our communities and the country. All options related to protecting against exposure to the virus are on the table,” said UAW President Rory Gamble in a joint statement.
Additionally, OEMs are working to ensure financial protection for workers during these uncertain times. In Honda’s statement on March 26th, the company said they would “continue to provide opportunities for associates to be paid including providing full pay for some non-production days and pulling ahead vacation for others.”
Finally, many OEMs are exploring manufacturing much-needed medical supplies. These include masks, ventilators, and even hand sanitizer. All of these are in short supply as the pandemic taxes global health systems. They can also be used by essential services still in use, such as public transportation.
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