Operations resumed today at Volkswagen's Wolfsburg plant, the largest and most important of the German manufacturer's factories. The restart comes while inventories of unsold models remain high around the world, due of course to drastically reduced demand as the coronavirus raced around the planet.
Encouraged by the decline in infection rates in many countries, Germany has relaxed its containment rules and carmakers are counting on the country's ability to monitor the situation closely, contain the coronavirus and kick-start Europe's largest economy.
The Volkswagen group, which owns the Skoda, Audi, Bentley, Porsche and Seat brands, is also restarting production this week in Portugal, Spain, Russia, South Africa, the Czech Republic and South America.
Its plans mirror those of automotive rivals Renault, Peugeot and FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles). The latter is now re-launching its activities at its Sevel plant in central Italy. Production will resume at somewhere between 70% and 80% of capacity.
At Wolfsburg, some 8,000 workers started assembling cars again today, including the new generation of the Volkswagen Golf. This week, 1,400 units will be produced, and then some 6,000 in a fortnight's time, Volkswagen said. The plant's production rate will be around at 10-15% of normal capacity to start with and reach around 40% of pre-crisis levels within a week, Andreas Tostmann, member of the board of directors and head of production at Volkswagen, told Reuters Group.
"The restart of Europe's largest automobile plant after weeks of shutdown is an important symbol for our employees, our dealers, our suppliers, the German economy and for Europe."
- Andreas Tostmann, Volkswagen
Volkswagen has of course revised its procedures to include additional sanitary measures. Workers are asked to take their temperature and put on their work clothes at home to avoid crowding in the plant's changing rooms. Additional markings have been placed on the floor of the facility to help workers comply with the 1.5-metre spacing rules. Additional time is also provided for employees to disinfect their tools and work surfaces.
Volkswagen began producing components at its facilities in Braunschweig, Kassel, Salzgitter and Hanover at the beginning of April and resumed car production in Zwickau and Bratislava on April 20 and in Chemnitz on April 23.
And North America? On May 3, the global auto giant plans to restart production at its plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The manufacturer is working to reduce its pre-crisis inventory levels. To get there it is pinning its hopes on a recovery in demand as public life gradually resumes in many parts of Europe. Volkswagen says about 70% of its dealerships in Germany reopened last week.
Signs of recovery are slowly emerging as countries begin to wrestle the coronavirus to the ground. Now we have to hope that it doesn’t bite back hard.