American automakers are still trying to figure out the best way to get production started again. It’s not going smoothly.
The Big Three – Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler — have targeted a date of May 18 to re-start their manufacturing plants. It would be a gradual re-opening, as the country (and rest of the world) continues to recover from a massive quarantine order. Despite that, the United Auto Workers have pushed back a little. They claim that forcing workers back into factories too early could be a major safety risk.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the companies originally proposed an earlier start date. However, the Union “expressed concern” about having car factories opening by the end of April.
More, from the WSJ:
“Detroit’s car companies are targeting May 18 to resume some production at their U.S. factories after the companies shut down their plants in March amid the spread of the coronavirus, according to people familiar with the plans.
“Executives from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV in recent days tentatively settled on the timeline after talks with United Auto Workers leaders and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office, the people said.
“The UAW last week expressed concern that reopening factories early next month—as earlier target dates had called for—wouldn’t provide enough time to develop safety protocols to protect workers from the risk of infection.”
A follow-up comment from Ford stated there was no official restart date planned yet. Auto companies voluntarily closed their doors — including many dealerships — at the start of this mess. They are technically free to re-open whenever they want. However, a powerful worker’s union could resist if they feel it’s unsafe to return to work.
Are New Cars Essential?
Oddly enough, there continues to be a debate about whether automotive manufacturing should be considered an essential business or not. Although the companies are vital to the economy, car sales are currently at a standstill. Almost no one is buying a new car right now. Re-starting too early could drastically throw off the balance of supply and demand, causing car prices to plummet.
We will have to wait and see whether the Big Three actually re-open on May 18. Plenty of medical and government officials still believe that mid-May is too early to reduce stay-at-home orders or physical distancing rules. The date could very well be changed in the next two and a half weeks.