Detroit is doing well (so far) under coronavirus COVID-19 threat; GM is staying home where it can
COVID-19, the latest coronavirus, has shut down businesses around the world. For example, Apple just reopened its stores in China, but will have far less to sell, and is closing stores elsewhere in the world. Fiat’s northern Italian plants have slowed production so workers can be spaced further apart, and many expect the plants to be shut down entirely at some point. Auto plants in China have endured long shutdowns already.
Transmission from Indiana
In the United States, one autoworker has tested positive for COVID-19, as far as we know—a Chrysler transmission plant worker in Indiana. That means Chrysler has far fewer infected employees than the (much smaller) White House or Senate. What’s more, while the plant was presumably slowed or shut down while the employee’s work area was disinfected (the company claimed to be disinfecting the entire plant), and breaks have been staggered to keep distance between people in cafeterias, output is not expected to drop. (If you were worried
That will probably change, not necessarily in Indiana, but elsewhere. Reportedly, Chinese auto sales plummeted by 90% as a result of the virus and the government’s aggressive containment efforts (which are certain not to be replicated in the United States). The shutdowns of entire industries within the nation and the world as a whole are bound to hit auto sales, and as the infection spreads, it’s quite likely to hit massive automobile plants harder. By then, automakers will likely to be shut or slow down some of their facilities anyway.
As for GM, it’s going virtual where possible. Mary Barr is asking GM workers to stay at home if they can:
As the coronavirus continues to evolve, we have important updates to our working policies to share.
If the nature of your work allows for it, we are asking all GM employees and contract workers to work remotely, beginning Monday, March 16. This policy applies globally, apart from our team in China, which has existing protocols in place. Please speak with your direct manager about what this means for you.
Employees will “plug in” electronically
Contract workers should contact their employers for further direction.
… Our IT tools and systems have been extensively stress-tested; it’s vital that we leverage them to continue delivering. We need you to stay in close contact with your leader and your teams to ensure continuity of work.
… We are taking every precaution to ensure our teams remain safe and are adjusting manufacturing, Global Product Development, Customer Care and Aftersales and Contact Center work schedules to allow for additional cleaning. …
I understand how uncertain these times feel. For many of us, it’s our first experience of this type. But disruption and trying circumstances are not new to us. Especially in times like these, we demonstrate our flexibility, agility and resilience. This team always rises to the occasion and just as we have in the past, we will chart our course.
The impact on small electric-hopefuls is unknown; Rivian has the money to weather the storm, but others may not be so lucky, and may end up liquidating. Chances are, like Fisker (creators of the Karma), their assets will end up being purchased by Chinese moguls.
One interesting facet of this experience, though, has been the ability of American automakers to survive without Chinese parts. While many components are made in China now, apparently each domestic and foreign automaker in America had alternative sources or large stockpiles set up—the result of unusually widespread foresight. Or, possibly, parts loaded onto ships months ago are still arriving, and the impact of Chinese parts plants shutting down hasn’t been felt yet.
Clark Westfield grew up fixing up and driving past-their-prime American cars, including various GM and Mopar V8s. He has ghostwritten auto news for the last few years, lives in Farmingdale, New York, and can be reached at +1.516-531-4021.