Volvo will restart its vehicle assembly lines in Torslanda, near Gothenburg, Sweden, and Ghent, Belgium, on Monday, ending a car production shutdown that started in March to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the automaker said Friday.
“Our prime responsibility as a company is to safeguard our employees' jobs for the future and to do the same for our suppliers and our dealers,” Volvo CEO Hakan Samuelsson told Automotive News Europe. "The best way to do this is to re-start our production."
He added that Volvo also wants to signal that shutting everything down until a vaccine for the virus is found is irresponsible because it "would result in a disastrous downward spiral into a recession."
When asked about the human toll the virus has had on the company Samuelsson said a "handful" of Volvo employees have had the virus but the infection rate at the company is in line with the global average and he is not aware of any deaths.
"There is no indication that we have been working in an irresponsible way," he told ANE. "With the measures we are going to take now we have no reason to believe that we will contribute to any spread of this disease. On the contrary, I think we will offer a very controlled, safe environment."
Output at both vehicle assembly plants will resume slowly as the automaker initially will only produce vehicles that have already been ordered, a spokeswoman said. Samuelsson said Volvo expects to produce three to four days next week to meet the demand, which, particularly from China, is is returning to normal. That being said, he added that "there will be considerable reduction from the maximum capacity that we have."
Volvo will reveal more detailed the volume and financial effects of the shutdown at a later date, he said.
Prior to the shutdown Ghent, which was closed on March 17, was making 1,000 vehicles a day, resulting in a combined volume of more than 220,000 XC40 SUVs and V60 station wagons last year. Output at Torslanda, which was closed on March 26, is roughly 300,000 a year. The plant makes the XC90 and XC60 SUVs and the V90 station wagon.
Volvo also will resume output on Monday at its powertrain plant in Skovde, Sweden, where it builds its four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines. Once those three factories join Volvo’s body components plant in Olofstrom, Sweden, where production restarted earlier this week, Volvo’s European production network will be fully operational again.
In the U.S., however, plans to reopen Volvo’s factory in Ridgeville, near Charleston, South Carolina, have been pushed back to May 11 from May 4 because of supply chain constraints and restrictions from local authorities, the spokeswoman said.
Volvo originally planned an April 14 reopening for its U.S. factory, which stopped output of the S60 sedan March 26.
Back in Europe, Volvo said that all re-opened facilities have been “cleaned extensively” and that sanitation routines have been intensified. There will also be voluntary temperature checks offered at main entrances.
In recent weeks, Volvo said it has reviewed every single working station in the Torslanda plant from a health and safety perspective. Wherever it is not possible to follow social distancing rules, employees will wear masks, the spokeswoman said.
Volvo’s office workers will also start returning on Monday. At its Swedish facilities the layouts of all meeting rooms, office spaces and restaurants have been adjusted to allow social distancing. For example, desks have been rearranged to provide more space between workers and Volvo will limit the number of people who are allowed in meeting rooms and restaurants.
Added Samuelsson: "The best thing we can do to help society is to find ways to restart the company in a safe way, thereby safeguarding people’s health and their jobs.”
Volvo said it will continue to take assistance for an unspecified period of time from the Swedish government to help defray employees’ wage costs because most people will continue to work reduced hours.