Cleveland, Ohio – Honda and Toyota restarted their North American plants Monday, bringing thousands of workers back to their jobs throughout Canada, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas, and Alabama.
Both companies instituted new work rules and procedures including staggered shift starts to prevent big crowds at plant entrances, mandatory masks or cloth face coverings, staggered lunch breaks, increased cleaning efforts, and temperature scans for workers entering facilities.
Ford, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) plan to use similar procedures when they restart production on May 18. Some workers have already reported back to their plants to make facility upgrades such adding plastic sheeting between some workstations.
Most North American automotive production has been shuttered since late March. Specific dates vary by company, but by March 23, production had ceased throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Since then, automotive engineers have been struggling to rework build processes to keep workers farther apart from each other in some plant areas, source face masks and other personal protective equipment, and assure health regulators and employees that plants would be safe.
Hyundai’s plant in Alabama was one of the first to reopen on May 4. Volkswagen had been set to restart its operations in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on May 3, but delayed that opening indefinitely, citing a lack of available parts from suppliers. Nissan has also delayed restarting plants in Tennessee and Mississippi indefinitely while working with suppliers to ensure available parts.
Electric automaker Tesla had hoped to open its Fremont, California, plant today, but county officials in Northern California have not yet lifted stay-at-home orders. State officials have lifted shelter-in-place orders, but California’s governor is urging counties to make their own decisions on when it’s safe to bring workers back to facilities. On Twitter over the weekend, Tesla CEO Elon Musk threatened to move the company’s headquarters and all future production to Texas because of frustration with California.
[UPDATE] Tesla restarted production Monday in violation of the Alameda County restrictions. Musk acknowledged the legal breach and said on Twitter that he would be working on the assembly lines and if police wanted to arrest someone for violating the rules, they should arrest him. County officials have not issued arrest warrants but have said they need to evaluate Tesla's operating procedures to ensure the safety of the plant's 10,000 employees.
Companies that have restarted or plan to do so within the next week expect to do so slowly. Honda officials said Monday’s production time was spent mainly on training workers on new policies and procedures, not manufacturing cars. Also, more space between workers and time between shifts will likely lead to production.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and Today's eMobility and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 19 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.