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First Ford plant could restart on May 4

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Ford is joining other automakers and suppliers in aiming for May 4 to begin gradually restarting assembly lines, with at least one U.S. plant slated to go operational that day, according to a union official.

In a letter sent to union members, Kentucky truck plant president Allen Hughes said Ford plans to reopen its Louisville plant on a two-shift Monday-Thursday schedule, although he noted that "this is not finalized and is very tentative."

It’s not clear yet whether Ford is aiming to restart all of its American plants on May 4 or whether the procedure is specific to the Kentucky facility. A Ford spokesman said Thursday that there was no change for the moment to the company's announcement a few days ago that production would be delayed indefinitely.

May 4 is also the scheduled date for reopening of U.S. plants belonging to FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles), Honda, Hyundai, Volvo and Toyota, as well as supplier Magna International Inc. The industry is of course trying to recover from the pandemic that has halted production, closed dealer showrooms and virtually eliminated demand.

Magna president Swamy Kotagiri told Reuters how important it will be for everyone to be on the same page and for the industry not to get off to a false start. In his view,

"The most important thing is, how can we as an industry coordinate and minimize the start-stops? If someone comes and says, 'It's not May 4, it's May 10.' That's OK. It's easy to deal with. But if somebody comes and says to start on the 4th and we stop again on the 12th, that's a bigger problem."

- Swamy Kotagiri, Magna president

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Photo: Ford

Allen Hughes said that Ford has safety measures in place for its restart. At least eight members of the UAW (Union of Auto Workers) working at Ford plants have died due to coronavirus-related problems.

"The company's plans are wide-ranging and have been changing daily, partly due to the changes to the coronavirus guidelines" he said.

Those plans could include bracelets that would alert workers when they are within one meter of each other, as reported yesterday. Ford also announced this week that it would begin production of face masks at its Van Dyke Transmission plant and provide units to all of its workers.