Cleveland, Ohio – Detroit’s major automakers agreed to shutter their plants through March 30 to slow the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, thoroughly sanitize plants, and develop strategies that will allow safe manufacturing in the future.
Shutdowns for Ford and GM begin Thursday evening except for Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant that shut down Wednesday morning after a worker there tested positive for COVID-19. FCA’s shutdown began Wednesday evening.
Honda plans to shut down its plants throughout North America starting next week, also through March 30. And, Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama shut down Wednesday following a worker’s positive COVID-19 test, but the automaker says it plans to restart after health officials declare the area safe.
Nissan plans to shut down its U.S. plants on Friday, but unlike competitors who hope to reopen by the end of the month, Nissan plans to keep facilities in Tennessee and Mississippi closed through April 6. Toyota plans to shutter its Canadian and North American plants on Monday and Tuesday (March 23-24), reopening on Wednesday, March 25.
While most automakers have called the work stoppages safety measures, Toyota officials acknowledged the strong financial incentive for reducing output, noting, "an anticipated decline in market demand related to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic." Put another way, when people are being told not to leave the house for anything other than an emergency, a trip to the local car dealership is unlikely.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) had been pushing Detroit’s manufacturers for a shutdown to protect workers as the disease spreads. Michigan reported its first COVID-19 death Wednesday.
“GM and the UAW have always put the health and safety of the people entering GM plants first, and we have agreed to a systematic, orderly suspension of production to aid in fighting COVID-19/coronavirus,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “We have been taking extraordinary precautions around the world to keep our plant environments safe and recent developments in North America make it clear this is the right thing to do now.”
UAW President Rory Gamble said, “UAW members, their families, and our communities will benefit from today’s announcement with the certainty that we are doing all that we can to protect our health and safety during this pandemic.”
The closures marked the end of a chaotic period in which different automakers offered different solutions to slow the virus’ spread. Late Tuesday, FCA officials announced plans to stagger production and have rolling shift closures to space out workers and give maintenance crews more cleaning time.
And, automakers and the union have a lot of issues to figure out during the shutdown. Ford officials said they’ll be working with the union on “plant restart plans as well as exploring additional protocols and procedures for helping prevent the spread of the virus. Chief among them: finding ways to maximize social distancing among plant workers – both during work hours and at shift change, when large numbers of people typically gather at entry and exit points and maximizing cleaning times between shift changes.”
Even the March 30 end date is uncertain. Ford, FCA, and Honda officials said they plan to restart production then (March 31 in Honda’s case). GM says plants will be shuttered until at least March 30.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and Today's eMobility and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 20 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.