Major American automakers on Monday returned to making vehicles for the first time since the COVID-19 shutdowns brought production to a halt in late March.
The reopening of plants for U.S. three big auto companies, General Motors (GM), Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler, bulwarks of a sector that employs nearly one million workers, will be closely watched as companies in a range of American industries seek to get back to business without a surge of coronavirus infections.
Ford said 59,000 factory workers, about 80 percent of its workforce, were expected to show up for work on Monday, while GM said it expected about 15,000 of its 48,000 factory workers to report. About one third of Fiat Chrysler's hourly workforce, some 16,000 workers, were to come in, the company said.
All three companies said they would thoroughly and frequently clean facilities and allot extra time between work shifts to do so. At Ford, factories that had been running on three shifts, or essentially around the clock, will work on two shifts to allow extra time for cleaning. At Fiat Chrysler factories, 10 minutes per shift will be allotted for cleaning.
The three auto giants will also make changes to how "common areas," such as dining areas, are used in order to keep employees apart from one another. Fiat Chrysler shared an image of a break area table, which normally seats six people, now has plastic dividers that reduce its seating to three.
These practices are based, in part, on the experiences at the companies' factories that have reopened in Asia and Europe.
Executives at Ford and GM said no cases of COVID-19 transmission were observed in plants outside the United States since new safety measures were adopted. The changes include mandatory face masks, separating workers on assembly lines, cleaning work areas often and requiring workers to go through temperature monitors and report any symptoms before entering a plant.
The companies also are offering zero-percent financing of up to 84 months as well as big discounts on vehicles to spur consumer demand.