Ford Motor Co. has again indefinitely delayed the start-up of its North American manufacturing network due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
The one exception will be for production of the ventilators needed to assist some of the most seriously ill victims of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. On Monday, Ford announced it plans to launch production of the devices at a suburban Detroit component plant starting April 20.
“The health and safety of our workforce, dealers, customers, partners and communities remains our highest priority,” said Kumar Galhotra, Ford president, North America. “We are working very closely with union leaders – especially at the UAW – to develop additional health and safety procedures aimed at helping keep our workforce safe and healthy.”
Virtually all North American automotive production was halted in mid-March due to the pandemic. A growing number of autoworkers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and as many as a half-dozen have reportedly died.
Ford, like General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and other foreign-owned brands originally had hoped to restart production by around the end of March, though that ambitious target was extended as the viral attack worsened. Last week, Ford said it would reopen an assembly plant in Mexico on April 6 and follow up with four more U.S. assembly lines and some parts plants a week later. Toyota, FCA and several others quickly announced production schedules set to resume around April 20.
But those plans have been short-circuited by the worsening crisis. The White House now estimates as many as 200,000 Americans will perish from COVID-19, even though it has extended calls for social distancing to continue through the end of April. Currently, about 225 million Americans in 30 states face various forms of shelter-in-place orders. At the earliest, the peak of the outbreak in the U.S. is now forecast to occur in mid-April.
Ford is the first automaker to announce an extension of its planned shutdown. But it is not expected to be alone for long. Toyota was planning to review its own schedule by April 10, and, on background, a number of other automakers have told TheDetroitBureau.com they likely now will push back through late April or into May before restarting their factories.
The exception is with the production of desperately needed medical gear. Ford is partnering with GE Healthcare both to produce ventilators at its Rawsonville Components Plant while also helping accelerate production at a GE plant in Madison, Wisconsin. The Michigan operation will launch on April 20, with the assistance of 500 union volunteers.
General Motors is expecting to launch production of ventilators at a Kokomo, Indiana component plant about the same time. It is partnering with Ventec Life Systems on that project and also will assist the Seattle medical supplier boost its own output of the devices.
Ford, GM, FCA and Toyota, among others, also will be producing face shields, masks and other supplies with the assistance of worker volunteers.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the auto industry has been severe. U.S. new vehicle sales are expected to be off about 40% for March, with demand forecast to fall at least 50% in April.
A variety of automotive events scheduled for April, May and even June have likewise been cancelled or postponed. The North American International Auto Show on Sunday said it would cancel its 2020 event. And the New York Auto Show originally scheduled for next week will push into late summer — if it can even take place then. The Indianapolis 500 has likewise delayed from its classic Memorial Day run. The Paris Auto Show, normally held in September, also has been scrubbed.
The Paris Motor Show, scheduled for Oct. 1-10, has also been scrubbed, adding to the the long list of shows in Detroit, New York and Geneva, among others.