Carmakers across Europe slowly reopen factories

Production losses could be lessened as manufacturing is gearing for a restart

Carmakers across Europe are starting to reopen factories in order to minimise losses generated by the weeks of lockdown, news wires reported. Hyundai Motor Czech car plant was the first in the country to get back to work on Tuesday after a three-week outage. Also on Tuesday Volkswagen Group's Audi brand restarted operations at its plant in Gyor, Hungary after halting work on 22 March.

Daimler is also making plans to restart production at its engine facilities in Germany, with the carmaker targeting 20 April to resume manufacturing. The Mercedes-Benz passenger car plants in Sindelfingen and Bremen will follow this. During the staggered start-up, these factories will initially produce in one-shift operation, with hygiene stations in place and new regulations over behaviour in the workplace.

VW is also looking to slowly open production facilities in Germany so that it can increase the number of components being sent to factories in China. The carmaker will put new measures in place to protect the 1,700 employees who will return to work next week. “The protection and health of our workforce take priority. Nothing is more important for us,” says Ralf Brandstätter, VW’s chief operation officer. “Our employees can rely on us doing everything possible to ensure that they can work safely. This is why we have set clear standards together with the General Works Council and defined a timetable for various phases in the return to normal operation.”

Fiat plans to restart operations at three Italian sites as soon as the government lifts coronavirus restrictions on manufacturing, while supercar manufacturer Ferrari is piloting its ‘back on track’ scheme as it looks to resume production. The plan involves the voluntary screening of Ferrari employees with blood tests to check their health in relation to the virus. If successful, other manufacturers may look to roll out similar initiatives, although as a niche carmaker, Ferrari’s workforce is much smaller and therefore such testing is easier to conduct.

Almost 1.5 million vehicles - passenger cars, trucks, vans, buses and coaches, have been lost so far in production shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to figures released by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA).  It warns that this number could climb further if shutdowns are prolonged or more plants are closed. The average shutdown duration EU-wide currently stands at 18 working days.

As may be expected, Germany is the hardest-hit country in terms of production losses, with 456,977 vehicles failing to exit manufacturing facilities, almost a third of Europe’s total losses. Spain’s production halt has seen a loss of 284,364 vehicles, while the UK has lost 127,310 units and France is down 114,354 vehicles.

With infection and mortality curves only just starting to flatten in Europe, and no clear timeline as to when the crisis may end, ACEA’s warnings of increasing production losses are likely to come true.  The figures show that even when the effects of the pandemic lessen and things start to return to normal, the automotive market will feel the repercussions of the crisis for some time to come. While sales across Europe have dropped, carmakers will need to ramp up production and adjust to demand, depending on how economies recover.

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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