DETROIT — The Detroit 3 are weeks away from having their U.S. production back at full strength, and some other automakers are already there. But the industry isn't just picking up where it left off in March.
Budgets have been cut. The supply chain is more vulnerable. The U.S. economy is officially in a recession, and the Federal Reserve, warning that the recovery won't be quick, projects that the unemployment rate will still top 9 percent by year end.
"This is the biggest economic shock in the U.S. and the world, really, in living memory," Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a news conference last week. "We went from the lowest level of unemployment in 50 years to the highest level in close to 90 years, and we did it in two months."
The U.S. auto industry's unprecedented restart has moved quickly and encountered only minor setbacks, such as parts shortages caused by Mexico reopening later. Most plants making popular, high-profit vehicles are running around the clock again, and no major outbreaks of the coronavirus were reported — either among auto workers or in the surrounding communities — in the weeks after production resumed.
New safety protocols have resulted in fewer and shorter production stoppages than feared, fueling optimism that any resurgence of the virus would be less disruptive to auto manufacturing, though showroom traffic could suffer.
"There's a threat of demand being impacted by another wave of the pandemic," Cox economist Jonathan Smoke said, "which at this point seems to be playing out, at least in the southern half of the United States, and/or a worsening economy."
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles expects to be back to its pre-pandemic operating schedule next week. General Motors said it would be at regular production levels this month, and Ford Motor Co. is targeting July 6.
At GM's pickup plant in Fort Wayne, Ind., an overtime shift scheduled for Saturday, June 13, was postponed to Saturday, June 20, because of Mexico's slower restart.