With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to spread across the U.S., automakers are extending their production plant closures, though Ford and Toyota have now set out plans to start reopening factories in April.
- Both automakers originally expected to be back in production by the end of the month.
- Ford now hopes to relaunch operations at one plant on April 6, Toyota set to reopen two weeks later.
- General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and others are still reevaluating plans but likely to push into April before any plants start up again.
President Donald Trump wants to have the U.S. economy “opened up and raring to go by Easter,” but with only one exception, the auto industry does not appear likely to meet his target.
Ford is “bringing key plants back online while the company introduces additional safety measures to protect returning workers,” said Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s president of U.S. operations. (Photo: Paul A. Eisenstein/TheDetroitBureau.com)
Virtually the entire North American auto industry has shut down, automakers initially hoping to reopen manufacturing operations around March 30. But, with the rate of Covid-19 infections and fatalities rapidly escalating — and with tens of millions of Americans now under lockdown — the shutdowns are expected to push into April, at the earliest.
Ford on Thursday announced it will reopen one factory, its Hermosillo (Mexico) Assembly Plant, on April 6 on a single shift. It then plans to follow with four U.S. assembly plants on April 14:
- Dearborn Truck Plant;
- Kentucky Track Plant;
- Ohio Assembly Plant; and
- Kansas City Assembly Plant, which will resume production only on its Transit van line.
Toyota also wants to get its North American network up and running, but won’t restart operations in the U.S., Mexico and Canada until April 20, it said in an announcement Thursday.
Dealers were already worried about inventory build-up before the pandemic struck. (Photo: Getty Images)
As with Ford, Toyota made clear its plans remain subject to change. “We will continue to monitor the situation and take appropriate action in a timely manner,” the Japanese automaker said in its statement.
As for other automakers, “The situation is fluid and can change week to week,” GM said in a statement. “We don’t have firm return-to-work dates at this time.”
FCA said in an email it had no update of its own plans to restart production across North America.
The big concern is whether the coronavirus outbreak can be brought under control by mid-April. There have already been a handful of deaths at Ford and Fiat Chrysler facilities, as well as a growing list of workers diagnosed with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Toyota employs 32,000 workers on its North American assembly lines. (Photo: Toyota)
There are other reasons why automakers are being cautious about restarting production. U.S. car sales have collapsed in recent weeks and are expected to plunge at least 50 percent next month, according to J.D. Power. “The demand just isn’t there,” Scott Vazin, U.S. PR chief for Toyota, told Ride. Keeping plants shut, he noted, helps prevent an excessive build-up of dealer inventories.
WHY THIS MATTERS
The U.S. auto industry has all but shut down as efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic accelerate. What was expected to be a short plant shutdown could extend well into April or beyond. That could have a health payoff while also helping automakers avoid a huge buildup of unsold cars. But stretching the closures down much longer could further weaken a struggling American economy.