It’s a new normal for Subaru plant employees who make the newly-remodeled 2020 Subaru Outback wagon. The plant located in Lafayette, Indiana has been sitting idle since March 23 due to the coronavirus epidemic. Now that employees are returning to their jobs, it won’t be anything like what they left 7 weeks ago. Everything has changed but how will it affect the quality of the new Outback?
In addition to the 2020 Outback wagon, the Japanese automaker also makes the 2020 Ascent family hauler, Impreza compact sedan and 5-Door hatchback, and Legacy sedan at the Indiana plant. Subaru Indiana Automotive (SIA) produces about 50 percent of SOA’s all-wheel-drive vehicles they sell in the U.S. so it’s a big deal to get these vehicles rolling off the assembly line again quickly.
Subaru plant employees return to work
But it may not be as quick as plant management would like. All new plant procedures will be in place now and it won’t be up to full speed for weeks. SIA spokesperson Craig Koven told Inside Indiana Business full operations are expected to resume on May 18 but says that does not necessarily equate to full production. “There are a number of factors, including supply chain challenges, which will play a role in determining production levels upon return.”
Even before that plant shut down there were concerns from some Subaru retailers with the quality of the new Outback wagon. Torque News wrote a story last year reporting there were concerns with Subaru’s suppliers operating at quality levels below Subaru's internal target. Now that they are also dealing with a new normal, it could be an issue on restarting operations.
Should you be concerned about quality?
Torque News covered a story last week about automotive plants starting up this week will be experiencing issues never seen before. Plants like Subaru Indiana Automotive are built to maximize every bit of space. New social distancing rules will spread employees out and it will affect the assembly line and all other areas of the manufacturing process.
No one knows how long it will take auto plant employees to adjust to new rules that will affect shift changes, and the balance between time spent working vs. the time employees spend cleaning. Wearing new PPEs (personal protective equipment) could also affect the employee's dexterity and ability to perform their jobs at peak efficiency.
On an independent SIA Facebook page, Steve Taylor, an employee at the plant says, “First day back and I’m actually a little nervous. Oh well, let’s shake these nerves off and make it happen.”
Employees have not received pay since the U.S. plant shut down on March 23. Subaru President and CEO Tom Doll says employees were put on furlough but continued to receive benefits and their health coverage stayed in effect. It’s uncertain what plant employees will be dealing with after being off for so long without pay. They may have had financial issues and other family struggles. What frame of mind will they be in when they return this week?
Correction: SIA spokesperson Craig Koven told Torque News, "Following the announcement of the shutdown, all production associates received three full weeks of pay before a furlough eventually went into effect. (Full-time administrative associates have continued to work remotely and have therefore continued to be paid.)"
There should be concerns with 2020 Subaru Outback, Ascent, Impreza, and Legacy quality as the plant restarts after being dark for 7 weeks. Subaru’s suppliers will also be dealing with the same issues. Stay tuned.
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Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a variety of roles. All of his reports are archived on our Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Subaru Report. Check back tomorrow for more Subaru news and updates at Torque News!
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Photo credit: Subaru, SIA Facebook