Carmakers are beginning to move towards reopening plants shutdown by the coronavirus pandemic, which has battered the global automobile industry.
Volkswagen of America announced its Chattanooga plant plans for employees to return to work May 3, following a six-week suspension of operations due to the coronavirus pandemic, in alignment with lifted restrictions from the State of Tennessee and Hamilton County.
“We’ve dedicated the past several weeks to implementing stringent health and safety measures,” said Tom du Plessis, president and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga. “After assessing the current situation, we’ve decided to resume production under clear safety measures and with the health of our employees as our highest priority.”
Volkswagen plans to resume operations in phases, gradually increasing production volume over the course of several weeks. To allow ample time for implementation of new health and safety procedures, each will gradually lessen restrictions, with the final phase being a complete return to normal operations, VW said.
VW Chattanooga has put more than 90 new measures into place to limit contact and help ensure safe working spaces. The measures include, providing new personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, implementing temperature checks upon entrance, establishing six-foot distancing barricades and floor markings, ending shuttle transportation and increasing disinfection frequency of all contact surfaces, such as machinery and door handles. VWoA also is eliminating plated cafeteria meals with packed lunches.
VWoA’s medical team will evaluate and coordinate appropriate measures for any employees who exhibit coronavirus symptoms, or who are otherwise ill, at-risk, or have underlying medical issues.
The factory’s initial restart production schedule will be a five-day, eight-hour work week for most shops. Shift and break times will be staggered.
Volkswagen suspended production at the Chattanooga plant on March 21, prior to stay-at-home mandates from state and local government out of an abundance of caution.
Volkswagen employees and production contractors received full pay and benefits during this time, for a total of three additional weeks of compensation. On April 11, production and maintenance employees were placed on temporary emergency furlough. Furloughed employees continued to receive health care benefits and coverage of premiums during this time.
Meanwhile, Daimler AG said it has re-opened a Mercedes-Benz plant in Stuttgart is producing engines again with safety measures in place such as separating employees, staggering shifts and the widespread use of face masks. Mercedes’ parent, Daimler, is using the lessons it learned in China as it gradually opens plants back up in Europe.
Germany has begun to re-open its economy after an extensive testing program helped reduce the death toll from the pandemic. The toll in Germany is substantially less than in Great Britain, Italy, Spain and France.
Mazda de Mexico’s Vehicle Operation, where the pandemic has flared up in recent weeks, is shut down until April 30 to adjust production due to difficulties in parts procurement and changing vehicle demand, while also accounting for pre-scheduled line modification maintenance.