Toyota is pushing back the planned reopening of its U.S. manufacturing network by a week, workers now expected to begin reporting to their posts on May 11.
The Japanese giant becomes the latest on a growing list of automakers who have delayed restarting production due to concerns about whether they can keep employees safe during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Though some manufacturers were moving ahead with plans to open back up this week or next, others, including General Motors, Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Tesla and Kia have stretched out their plans.
Toyota was targeting May 4 for its start-up but, “based on an extensive review with our supplier and logistics network” it has pushed back seven days. The critical goal, the company said in a statement, is “the health and safety of our employees and stakeholders.”
The automaker did not provide specific details on why it pushed back the planned reopening of a network of parts and assembly plants dotting the U.S. The mention of its supplier and logistics partners, however, suggests it may not be confident that it can ensure a steadily supply of the parts and components it will need to resume production.
That is a potential challenge as many of those suppliers are struggling financially and may not have the resources to implement the extensive changes needed to protect workers, cautioned David Yanez, chief operating officer of PTI QCS, a quality control firm working with a number of automakers to address the challenges of building cars during a pandemic.
Yanez also said in an interview that it could take time to convince workers, even those employed by a deep-pocket manufacturer like Toyota, that all the necessary steps are being taken.
“Our culture now has to be about safety first. If workers don’t feel safe it could disrupt the entire production chain,” Yanez told TheDetroitBureau.com.
In a webinar with reporters last week, Toyota outlined the extensive steps it planned to take to reduce the risk of infection. That includes staggering start-of-work times to limit the number of workers entering or leaving a plant at any one time, redesigned work stations to reduce person-to-person contact, and the use of masks and other personal protection equipment.
Workers across the industry have raised concerns about whether such steps will be enough. Last week, Rory Gamble the president of the United Auto Workers Union, pressed Detroit’s Big three to delay their own reopening plans, cautioning that, “At this point in time, the UAW does not believe the scientific data is conclusive that it is safe to have our members back in the workplace. We have not done enough testing to really understand the threat our members face.”
All three of the Detroit automakers were expected to restart production on May 4. They have now pushed that back to May 18, at the earliest.
“It is important that our employees feel confident that all precautions have been taken to ensure our facilities are safe, secure and sanitized when production resumes,” FCA said in a statement. “In light of the updated state stay in place orders, the company is re-evaluating its plans to resume its North American operations and will communicate new restart dates in due course.”
GM, Ford and FCA also found it difficult to reopen, as originally planned, due to the extension of a stay-at-home order by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Separately, Tesla on Monday signaled to workers at its Fremont, California assembly plant that it will not have them report to work on Wednesday, April 29, as it originally had announced.
And Kia, which had planned to restart its Georgia assembly plant on Monday, April 27, has now pushed back to May 4.