European car makers restart production as lockdowns ease

Assembly line workers wear protective face masks as Volkswagen restarts production at its headquarter factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, on Monday
BACK ON TRACK: Assembly line workers wear protective face masks as Volkswagen restarts production at its headquarter factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, on Monday
Image: BLOOMBERG/KRISZTIAN BOCSI

Volkswagen will restart production at its Wolfsburg factory in Germany on Monday, the latest European car maker to take advantage of eased coronavirus lockdown rules to resume manufacturing.

VW, the world’s largest car manufacturer, is celebrating the reopening of its biggest plant by projecting a cartoon of a VW logo squashing coronaviruses.

Germany has allowed small retail stores to reopen, provided they adhere to strict distancing and hygiene rules.

Now large corporations are following suit.

BMW, Daimler and VW are banking on Germany’s ability to trace and contain the coronavirus, and a health care system capable of extensive testing to identify possible carriers of the disease.

This stands in stark contrast to the US, where the head of the United Auto Workers union said on Thursday it was “too soon and too risky” to reopen auto plants in early May, citing insufficient coronavirus testing.

European factories have changed work patterns to incorporate more rigorous hygiene and cleaning intervals, and more generous spacing between workers.

“On Monday, the German auto industry is back. We at Volkswagen have used the five-week pause to prepare ourselves for restarting production,” VW works council chief Bernd Osterloh said.

BMW cranked up engine manufacturing from Monday.

BMW wants to reopen its British plant in Goodwood and its Spartanburg, South Carolina, facility on May 4, followed by Dingolfing, Germany, and San Luis Potosi in Mexico on May 11, depending on market demand.

Other plants in Leipzig, Regensburg, and Rosslyn in Pretoria  will open after May 18, starting with a one-shift system.

BMW’s factory in Shenyang, China, has been producing since February 17.

The seating order on BMW staff factory buses has been changed, as has the process for entering and exiting the bus.

Workers came to the plant already wearing their factory clothes and designated pathways in the plant had been altered to ensure “one-way” traffic only, BMW said.

Mercedes-Benz plants in Sindelfingen and Bremen are also preparing to ramp up production.

Germany did not ban car production, though factories came to a standstill after authorities restricted the movement of people and ordered the closure of dealerships.

Fiat Chrysler will open its Sevel plant in Italy on Monday.

In France, Toyota this week restarted an assembly plant in Valenciennes and Renault began producing engines at its factory in Cleon. It will be followed by Renault’s Flins plant, where only 25% of the workforce is due to resume work.

Sweden’s Volvo Cars reopened its Torslanda factory this week after overhauling its production processes.


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