When will car assembly plants reopen?
In Belgium, Audi and Volvo would like to reopen their plants after the Easter holidays. BMW is holding on until the end of the month. Every car manufacturer is trying to plan a reopening as soon as possible, but many problems still have to be solved.
Most concrete are the plans of Volvo Ghent. “We wanted to restart on Tuesday the 14th of April,” says spokeswoman Barbara Blomme, “but that appeared to be unworkable, so it has been postponed until Monday 20th, just after the Easter holidays. When we start, we have to go for it completely, otherwise, it causes big reprogramming problems.”
The biggest problem remains the social distancing rule of 1,5 m between people. “At certain points in the assembly line, this gets very difficult,” admits Blomme. Each team in the line will get an entire hygiene kit and will be responsible for the cleanliness of the workplace.
The worker unions are rather skeptical about this timing. “Solving all obstruction problems will be very difficult,” says Gino Hautekeete (ACV union). “Especially, social distancing will be difficult to respect.”
Audi and VDL
Also, Audi Brussels wants to reopen soon. But here also, the unions are hesitating. “Building a car and keeping the social distancing rule of 1,5 m is not so simple,” a spokesman says. “Very often two or three persons work together in the same car.”
The ACV union is looking at what the government will decide. April 19th is a key date when things will be evaluated. “If the government is extending the lockdown period, it will be challenging to persuade the workers to start again.”
Bus manufacturer VDL in Roeselare is planning a partial restart. “We want to restart partly on the 20th of April and be on full force on the 4th of May,” says plant manager Peter Wouters. “To start earlier would be a risk, also because of possible supplying problems.”
VDL will measure its workers’ temperature when arriving in the morning and will provide hygiene kits. There will be a permanent control if social distancing is respected.
At DAF Trucks in Westerlo (east of Belgium), the restart will be in small numbers. “We first want to see if the adaptations on the working methods we have in mind will also work in reality.”
BMW not before May
On Monday, the German premium manufacturing group BMW has decided not to reopen before May. All factories in Europe, the US, and South-Africa remain closed until the 30th of April. Only in China production has restarted.
In a press release, BMW says that it expects a further collapse of sales due to the corona crisis and that it will adapt its production accordingly. Volkswagen is staying closed at least until the 19th; Daimler, until the 17th. Ford of Europe has announced its factories are ‘locked down’ until the 4th of May.
Given the even darker expectations for April, BMW CEO Oliver Zipse has declared to the whole of its personnel “that the corona crisis and its consequences can represent an existential danger for a lot of companies, even larger groups.”