Carmakers are planning their returns to work over the next few weeks. American Honda plans to restart factories on May 4th, as do Toyota, Ford Motor Company, and FCA North America. Early to mid-May seems to be the target for timelines across the field. One thing is given, however: it will not be a return to the status quo.
Toyota’s Chief Administrative Officer, Chris Reynolds, clearly expects things will be different. “There is no going back to the normal for the foreseeable future. We have to adjust to the new normal. He says the May 4 restart date is “an opening day, not the day we’re going begin making cars.”
When production does resume, it will look very different from just weeks ago when the furloughs began.
The New Normal is Safety for Auto Workers
Walking down the assembly line in a factory will resemble the previous state but with changes in place. It all centers around safety and protecting the plant workers from community spread if COVID-19 makes a resurgence.
Toyota’s Mississippi plant’s president, Sean Suggs, identified components that have been implemented in the factory. Work stations now ensure the appropriate 6-foot distance is possible between their workers and restroom sinks are now divided by plastic sheets. All staff members will be screened with health questions and temperatures taken. As well, factories are stocking up on hard-to-find PPE equipment that line workers will be required to wear.
Not All at Once
Although operations are set to resume in early May, that does not mean building cars on day one. It will take time to restart, and some factories like those operated by General Motors may continue making PPE.
Reduced production levels are a guarantee at first. Since most families across America are homeschooling due to coronavirus closures, a parent’s ability to return to work may not be possible until social distancing relaxes and childcare can resume.
Sales are also disrupted, though, with 45% fewer car sales in April compared to the pre-pandemic predictions. A reduced number of vehicles rolling off the assembly line likely won’t hurt.
What the Plant Changes Mean for Dealers
There’s a direct impact for dealerships on the plant closures in that they supply the product dealers sell. Although a dealership may have a full lot currently, there may be disruptions in the future. There are a couple takeaways for dealerships and management in other industries also.
Template for Safety
Kickstarting production has required that automakers take an overabundance of caution for their workforce. With acceptable distancing practices, dividers, and PPE, not to mention screening, automakers are providing a template for what dealers can do to ensure a safe work environment for staff and customers.
Slow Return to Work
Bringing the dealership staff back to work will not be a singular event, but rather in stages. Prepare to have staffing start at minimal, then escalate to the level you’ll need for your new normal. That may or may not include everyone who received layoffs, and it may require new staff with skills previously not needed.
It’s not likely that any slowdown in plant production will immediately affect day-to-day operations at a dealership since car sales are barely half of their previous numbers. It’s a good plan to focus on excellent customer service and efficiency as the pandemic battle turns from a sprint to a marathon.
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Car Biz Today, the official resource of the retail automotive industry.