As European auto factories prepare to start up again after more than a month of coronavirus-related shutdowns, one thing is becoming clear: Production lines, at least at first, will look very different than in the past.
In many cases employees will be wearing protective gear, making them look more like medical technicians than autoworkers. The normal production rhythm will be in flux, with reduced shifts to adapt to uncertain demand and parts supply. Some company canteens will be closed to minimize contact or the number of people inside them will be limited.
And in at least one piece of good news, some meetings will be shorter and involve fewer people.
Hyundai and sibling brand Kia were among the first to resume output in Europe, on a limited basis. Hyundai's plant at Nosovice, Czech Republic, will operate on two shifts instead of three to ensure adequate sanitary measures are taken. Workers at Kia's factory in Zilina, Slovakia, will have their temperatures measured with a thermal camera before they enter the factory. Volvo said when its plants in Sweden and Belgium re-open on Monday there will be voluntary temperature checks offered at the main entrances.
Volkswagen Group has laid out a plan to restart factories around the world, starting the week of April 20 with Zwickau, Germany, where it will build the VW ID3 electric compact hatchback, and Bratislava, Slovakia, a multi-brand factory. They will be followed on April 27 by plants in Germany, Portugal, Spain, Russia, South Africa, and North and South America. A 100-point plan will be put in place to ensure safety.
But VW lines won't be humming at full speed right away. "We are keeping the risk of infection at Volkswagen as low as possible, but we need to be realistic," Bernd Osterloh, chairman of the VW works council, said in a release. "We have never developed, produced and sold vehicles under these conditions before."
"Taking the time to answer questions is more important now than daily production figures,” he said. Output will be dependent on other factors, too, including parts availability and consumer demand, both unknowns once limits on movement and commerce are lifted.