Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Honda and Toyota took action on Thursday to restart the closed North American factories to protect workers from the coronavirus.
The factories are said to reopen in early or mid-April, reestablishing the biggest source of cash for automakers, who typically make money when they ship vehicles to dealerships.
Car makers, like other companies, are trying to manage their way through the coronavirus crisis, which has forced factories to shut down amid workers fearing they could catch the virus while working close to others in work stations From the factory.
Ford has said it wants to reopen five assembly plants in North America, starting with one in Mexico on April 6 and continuing with four in the United States on April 14. The move was immediately met with skepticism by the United Auto Workers union, which represents 56,000 Ford plant workers.
“The UAW continues to review with great caution and concern the decisions made regarding the restart of workplaces, particularly at advanced dates,” said union president Rory Gamble in a statement.
Honda wants to reopen US and Canadian factories on April 7, a week later than planned, while Toyota plans to restart North American factories on April 20. Fiat Chrysler intends to reopen U.S. and Canadian factories on April 14 based on state restrictions and factory readiness. General Motors says it has not yet decided when the plants will restart. Most automakers have said they will monitor the virus and adjust decisions if necessary.
The plant’s decisions stand in stark contrast to Italy, which on Thursday widened a national lockdown to include most heavy industries. Auto factories in Italy, which is the world leader in virus deaths, had already been shut down voluntarily.
The movements of automakers in the United States occur while sales of new cars are expected to drop dramatically for the month of March. Edmunds.com expects March sales to drop nearly 36% from the previous year.
Ford, in a statement before the markets opened on Thursday, said it was targeting the reopening of its plant in Hermosillo, Mexico, followed by its truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan, Kentucky, Louisville, Ohio Assembly Plant near Cleveland and the Transit van at the Kansas City plant. The company also wants to reopen some parts manufacturing plants on the same day, including four in Michigan, which is one of the states hardest hit by the virus.
The Dearborn, Michigan automaker said it would introduce additional safety measures to protect workers, but said it would give details later. Ford wants to reopen five North American assembly plants in April that were closed due to the threat of a coronavirus.
The three Detroit automakers suspended production at US factories a week ago under pressure from the United Auto Workers union, which had concerns about worker safety.
The Ford decision comes as the number of people infected with virus spikes in Michigan. On Wednesday, the state reported at least 2,294 infections and the number of deaths almost doubled from 24 to 43.
Two Detroit area hospital systems reported treating more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients in 13 hospitals. At Beaumont Health and the Henry Ford Health System, the operating rooms were converted to intensive care units and the clinics were transformed into rooms for patients requiring other medical care.
President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that he hoped the US would be reopened by Easter as he pondered how to soften national social distancing guidelines to get some workers back to work during the coronavirus epidemic.
Infectious Disease Specialist and Principal Investigator Dr. John Amesh Adalja, Center for Health Security, Johns Hopkins, said by April 14 that experts will have a better idea of the trajectory of new cases of coronavirus and whether plants can be managed with appropriate social networks. distancing. It was important, he said, to find out that it was to operate factories safely. “I would say that we have to think about the way forward,” he said.
The decisions to reopen the factories should be based on local transmissions and viral infections, he said, adding that the number of people infected will increase due to the additional tests that are underway.
Cole Stevenson, a worker who installs steering wheels in Ford’s huge Dearborn pickup plant in Dearborn, said that a reopening in three weeks was likely to be long enough to protect the workers. “If they’ve researched the life of the virus enough on surfaces and things like that, and they do their part to keep it to a minimum, I guess I’m not too inclined to worry,” did he declare.
Stevenson said other workers may be more concerned about the virus, but says he keeps his distance to protect himself from the coronavirus.
The UAW Gamble, however, suggested that Ford keep worker safety at the top of its list before restarting operations. “The only guideline in a meeting room should be that management ask,” Am I going to send my family – my own son or daughter – to this factory and be 100% sure they are safe? “” Said Gamble.
Ford Motor’s factories, which largely manufacture pickup trucks, commercial vans and large, profitable SUVs, are critical to Ford’s financial health. The Ford F-150 pickup made at the Dearborn Truck plant is the best-selling vehicle in America, responsible for much of the company’s profits.
Ford factories were to be closed until March 30. Together, the Detroit automakers have approximately 150,000 union workers.
Two unionized workers at Fiat Chrysler plants in the Detroit area and Kokomo, Indiana, died this week from complications from the virus, but it is not known whether they got it in factories or elsewhere.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, which go away within two to three weeks. For some, especially the elderly and people with existing health problems, this can cause more serious illnesses, including pneumonia or death.
The effort to reopen the factories comes as Amazon and other large warehouses continue to operate, although some of the products they distribute are considered essential.