The European auto industry is in a dark place right now after the coronavirus forced the temporary closure of many factories. In China, however, life is returning to some sort of normality and the steps taken by Geely to get back on its feet give us a look at how that might be achieved for European automakers.
In line with Chinese government rules designed to stop the rapid spread of coronavirus, Geely extended the New Year holiday from January 26 to February 10. Those who could work, worked from home. But from February 10, some of the 6,000 employees who work at its headquarters in Hangzhou, southeast of Shanghai, were allowed back. A week later that number was increased again, and by February 25, the headquarters was fully staffed once more. All its vehicle factories are now running again, albeit working on a single shift while sales recover, a spokesman said.
So how did Geely achieve this? As the company details in a fascinating blog post, by very careful monitoring of employee health and by obsessive sanitizing. To get on site, employees have to pass through a tent in which a special camera has been set up to scan temperature. A nearby screen shows a heat-map of your body. Too hot equals potential fever and "anyone with a fever must be sent to isolation and medical teams alerted," the company says in the blog.
Employees' temperatures are also checked twice a day while at work, sometimes with hand-held monitors that are passed close to your face. They are meant to be smart enough to detect the difference between a fever and breaking sweat from running up the stairs.
Some experts have questioned the reliability of temperature checks in rooting out the infected, but in case anyone with Covid 19 does get through, Geely goes to war on germs too. Cars have to drive over sanitized mats that "remove bacteria from the underside of the vehicle," and when parked the door handles are sanitized by "security teams."
Inside the rules are similarly strict. Hand sanitizer bottles are placed at the entrance and throughout the building. An initial ban on widespread elevator use was lifted after restrictions were placed on the numbers allowed in. Tissues and hand sanitizer bottles are placed near the buttons for those doing the pressing.
The precautions continue. "Once in the headquarters all employees are given new face masks every eight hours and are encouraged to keep their mouth and nose covered at all times," the blog goes on. Large meetings are forbidden. A lunch, employees must stand a meter apart while queuing to use the office microwaves.
Life is certainly more restrictive in China whether in or outside the workplace. A color-coded app developed by digital payment provider Alipay shows green if you are healthy enough to be allowed to travel freely, or yellow or red if not.
"Subway guards ask for your Alipay green card to show you're healthy," Ash Sutcliffe, PR for Geely Holding Group, wrote on Twitter.
But he says that life is back to "90 percent normal," at least in in Hangzhou. "Don't worry, it gets better," he told Automotive News Europe.