SHANGHAI — Most of China’s automotive companies plan to resume operations this week, even though they face big challenges to do so.
The industry has been shut down for an extended national holiday as part of China’s efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which had infected 31,000 people by the end of last week.
The nation’s return to offices and factories will be complicated. The task is captured in an employee notification on the corporate website of Dongfeng Sokon, a major producer of small vans in the southwest municipality of Chongqing.
Dongfeng Sokon posted that it has established a special task force to take the temperature of all employees before they enter offices or plants. The company will have to make sure all employees wear face masks at work, arrange for them to take turns to have lunch and ensure that they sit one meter apart from each other in dining halls.
Those measures are not unique to Dongfeng Sokon. They are being required of all industrial companies by government agencies in Chongqing, home to Ford Motor Co.’s car joint venture, and other cities in China.
In the north China city of Zhengzhou where Nissan Motor Co. runs a light-truck plant and SAIC Motor Corp. has a factory to build cars for its proprietary Roewe and MG brands, the local government has ordered that factories use only local workers in the week starting Monday, Feb. 10, prohibiting workers from outside the area to travel into local work sites and potentially spreading the illness.
Authorities in Shanghai, home to both General Motors’ China headquarters and four of its auto plants, as well as Tesla’s China plant, have advised office employees to work from home and for manufacturers to arrange for employees to return to work only “by batches” to avoid a sudden mingling of large numbers of people.
On top of these measures, all provinces and municipalities in China are requiring anyone coming back from the extended holiday from other places in the country be confined to their homes for two weeks before returning to work, to make sure they do not have the virus.
The reduction in staffing that might result could hinder China’s factories from returning to full production, some industry observers said last week.
The province of Hubei, whose capital city of Wuhan is the outbreak’s epicenter, has ordered all employers to remain closed through Thursday, Feb. 13.
Hubei accounts for 9 percent of China’s total vehicle production, or about 2.16 million vehicles a year, according to estimates of IHS Markit, a consultancy. A Honda Motor Co. plant in Wuhan produces 650,000 vehicles a year, and a GM plant there produces 600,000.
It was far from certain late last week when people would indeed return to their workplaces as the virus showed no sign of abating.
IHS Markit predicted last week that if the epidemic conditions and government safety restrictions continue into mid-March, it could knock 1.7 million vehicles out of China’s production for the first quarter.