As the auto industry studies its plans to restart its assembly lines in the next few weeks, one has to wonder if this is the right move, given the fact that the coronavirus pandemic is still raging across the country.
For example, Ford, on Friday, announced that it had plans to restart its production on April 6. The automaker said it recognized that worker safety was a factor and that it would begin to bring its plants online on April 6 with added protection in place. Kumar Galhotra, Ford president of North America, said the essential plants would start up with additional safety measures put in place to protect returning workers. Ford May Unshutter Closed Plants On April 6
Ford, Fiat State Their Tentative Start Dates
Fiat Chrysler Autos (FCA) made a similar statement though the automaker moved its restart to April 14. That date, though, is dependent on stay-at-home orders and other coronavirus issues that affect the automaker’s various plants.
GM has yet to make any public statements regarding reopening its plants.
For its part, the United Auto Workers (UAW) is concerned with any plans to refire assembly lines. Rory Gamble, president of the union, said in a statement that the UAW views with “great caution and concern … decisions made about restarting workplaces, especially at advanced dates.” GM Finds Way To Manufacture Without Opening Plants Torque News reporter Mary Conway quoted Gamble in a separate story about Fiat Chrysler Autos (FCA).
The UAW is concerned with manufacturers bringing plants online too soon without consulting health authorities. Are the makers right to do this? After analyzing the available data, Torque News has concluded that it is probably in the best interest of the industry to remain down for a longer-term.
Ford Worker Tests Positive In KY
You would think that Ford would learn a lesson after an employee at its Kentucky plant tested positive for COVID-19. Granted, the worker wasn’t in Hermosillo, one of the plants Ford wants to bring back early in April, but it shows that the virus infection has affected a worker at one Ford plant, you can be confident that there will be more in the same plant. And, you can be sure that COVID-19 will have an impact on other plants.
It is quite understandable that Ford wants its quiet lines humming again. When there’s no production, there are no sales of new models. If there are no sales of new models, then there’s no profit to be made, and the stock will still drag. Ford has shown in the last three weeks that it is a stock to be reckoned with.
Still, it would seem the better part of commonsense to keep factories shut for at least another four weeks – at a minimum – so that the pandemic has more chance to run its course.
And, to keep the thousands of Ford assembly line employees at home where they will not be affected by the coronavirus.
President Lengthens Distancing Rule
Even the President has had a change of heart. He said last week that America was never “built to be shut.” He said at that time he wanted the U.S. economy up and roaring again by Easter. A new reality has superseded that statement, the realization that COVID-19 is a serious matter.
The President has had a series of feints and misstatements over the last couple of months. He has tried to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic. Over the weekend, President Trump has seemed to realize the severity of the virus. He has taken a page from his team of medical experts. He has not only taken on a more somber tone. Trump has adopted the mantra of his infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci who has said that there might be as many as 100,000 casualties from the pandemic. He extended his social distancing edict over the weekend.
For the auto industry, the UAW believes the manufacturers should draw on the best available medical data for the states with manufacturing plants.
The UAW has been urging that the industry pay strict attention to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. Decisions should rely on a critical question: “Would I send my family – my son or daughter – into that plant and be 100 percent certain they are safe?” Gamble concluded.
Ford, Automakers Not Taking Any Hints
With the President signing on for lengthened and tougher social distancing and the UAW urging the industry to rethink its plans, you might think that the automakers would take the hint and extend their shutdowns. However, that is just not the case.
Automakers are now planning to reopen their plants between April 6 and April 14. Toyota is the lone exception. It is only moving it out two weeks until later in April.
Perhaps it is time for shareholders to step up and ask their companies to keep the doors padlocked until later in April or even early May.
That’s not likely to be the case, though. One wonders that with the President signing onto stricter social distancing guidelines, how the automakers can justify reopening in the next one to three weeks? Even if they promise to open with the most stringent rules for the safety of their workers, we think they are not being responsible if they open in the first place.
Ford, Industry Should Keep Doors Closed
It is incumbent on the auto industry to keep their doors shut until the end of April or early May, and then it may still be too soon.
Marc Stern has been an auto writer since 1971. It was a position that filled two boyhood dreams: One was that I would write, and two that I write about cars. When I took over as my newspaper's auto editor, I began a 32-year career as an automotive columnist. There isn't much on four wheels that I haven't driven or reviewed. My work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek, SuperStock, Trailer Life, Old Cars Weekly, Special Interest Autos, and others. Today, I am the Ford F150 reporter for Torque News. I write how-to and help columns for online sites such as Fixya.com and others. You can follow me on Twitter or Facebook. Most of Marc's stories can be found at Torque News Ford coverage. Check back again and search for Torque News Ford F-150 news for more F-150 truck news coverage.