DETROIT — Detroit 3 executives are encouraging employees to work remotely to stifle the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The virus has spread globally, topping 139,000 cases so far, and has caused more than 5,000 deaths worldwide.
Concern over the virus paused vehicle production in China and has led to the cancellation and delays of auto industry events. About a dozen presumed cases have been reported in Michigan.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra on Friday asked employees to work remotely starting Monday, according to a letter to employees.
The work-from-home policy applies to all GM employees whose jobs allow them to work remotely, except for those in China, which has existing protocols in place.
Not all teams are able to work remotely, so GM is also adjusting work schedules in manufacturing, global product development, customer care and aftersales and contact centers to allow for additional cleaning, Barra said.
“These are important steps to lower the probability of spreading the coronavirus to coworkers, families and communities and to relieve the burden on public resources. It also helps conserve critical resources like cleaning crews, medical staff, and supplies so they can be deployed where they are most needed,” Barra said.
GM’s information technology tools and systems have been extensively stress-tested, she added. “It’s vital that we leverage them to continue delivering. We need you to stay in close contact with your leader and your teams to ensure continuity of work.”
Ford Motor Co. also urged employees to work from home starting Monday if their job allows.
“We’ve concluded the coronavirus issue has taken on a different dimension — and we need to be proactive to keep our people safe and help limit the spread of the virus in the communities where we live and work,” Ford CEO Jim Hackett said in a letter to employees.
Mark Truby, Ford’s chief communications officer, said on a conference call Friday he expects the “vast majority” of the company’s white-collar work force to comply with the work-from-home mandate. He said the automaker’s World Headquarters and Product Development Center in Dearborn, Mich., would remain open with some small teams continuing to work.
“This is a fairly fluid situation, but I don’t expect any of our major facilities to be completely shut down,” he said.
Additionally, Ford postponed media-only informational sessions for the launch of the upcoming Bronco SUV, scheduled for next week, until further notice.
Truby said Ford’s manufacturing facilities will remain open and that it has not lost any production outside of China. He did not offer details on a potential impact to sales but noted that “in some parts of the country, there’s been some impact in showroom traffic.”
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles on Thursday encouraged employees to work remotely. Some staffers, depending on their duties, will still need to appear in person to work. The program is designed to be flexible to allow for a mix of remote and on-site work, according to a spokesman.
While speaking on the impact of the virus outbreak, CEO Mike Manley said: “Clearly, we are now moving beyond regional hotspots and into planning for how this will impact every area of our business across the world.”
Manley also said in a letter to employees that the company has “introduced a very strict policy on external visitors at FCA sites.”
“Unless business critical to the company, we are asking every employee to suspend business travel and hosting external guests on site,” Manley said.
Earlier Thursday, FCA said an employee at its transmission plant in Kokomo, Ind., tested positive for the coronavirus. The employee is receiving medical care, and those who worked near him or may have come in contact with him have been put in home quarantine. The plant is continuing production, and the company has disinfected his workstation and is sanitizing the entire plant.
Nissan is directing U.S.-based employees in non-business critical roles to work remotely starting March 16 until further notice.
"This action is out of an abundance of caution to help reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus," a Nissan North America spokesman said.
Nissan is also suspending non-essential business travel, both international and domestic.
Mercedes-Benz USA is implementing a “temporary work from home” policy at its Atlanta headquarters, spokesman Rob Moran said.
”The health and safety of our employees are a top priority,” Moran said. "We are monitoring the situation very closely and are in close contact with local authorities and will adjust our measures accordingly."
Production at Mercedes-Benz’s Vance, Ala., factory has not been affected, Daimler spokeswoman Stefanie Krugsberger said.
“We are closely monitoring the dynamics of the situation, and will adjust working arrangements if necessary,” Krugsberger said.
BMW is instructing salaried employees to work remotely, starting March 16.
“Our office locations will remain open for select business critical functions and situations, yet everyone who has the ability to work remotely is instructed to do so until further notice,” a spokesman said.
BMW’s Spartanburg, S.C., factory — the automaker’s largest in the world — is operating on schedule and production remains unaffected, the spokesman said.
Volkswagen Group's U.S. operations are taking proactive measures to ensure the health and safety of its employees, a spokesman said.
“We continue to monitor this evolving situation and will make any necessary adjustments to business operations with the health and safety of our employees as the top priority,” he said.
Toyota has also taken protective measures, such as curtailing travel, reducing the size of meetings, increasing sanitation measures in the workplace, enforcing visitor policies and considering work from home arrangements, a spokesman said.
Honda said it has started more frequent sanitization at all of its facilities and has instituted screening measures for all visitors to its sites. "We also are proactively promoting CDC COVID-19 prevention tips and asking our associates to evaluate their health on an ongoing basis," a spokesman said in an email.
SAE meeting canceled
The Society of Automotive Engineers, SAE, said it will cancel its annual engineering world congress -- WCX -- the organization’s event in Detroit for automotive engineers, because of the coronavirus. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has banned gatherings of more than 250 people in the state.
The three-day event, which attracts thousands of engineers and hundreds of exhibitors, was scheduled to take place April 21-23 at TCF Center (the former Cobo Center) in downtown Detroit. SAE officials were considering late Friday offering some of the popular speaker panels online.
Global automotive suppliers are also taking precautions in light of the rapid spread of COVID-19.
A spokeswoman for seating supplier Adient, in a statement, said the company as of Monday "is requiring those of our non-plant U.S. employees able to conduct their work remotely to do so for the weeks of March 16 and March 23.”
Tony Sapienza, spokesman for ZF North America, said in a statement to Automotive News on Friday that the company is now asking all employees in the U.S. to work from home until the end of the month. The company has also suspended travel around the world for ZF employees.
As of 2 p.m. on Friday, all North American Denso facilities were fully operational.
“As the situation continues to evolve rapidly, we are working with our North American and international teams to evaluate all possible impacts of COVID-19 on Denso operations,” Andrew Rickerman, spokesman for Denso International America Inc., said in a statement.
A Delphi Technologies spokeswoman said on Friday that the company is in the process of establishing an emergency response plan to communicate to employees.
Omari Gardner and Alexa St. John contributed to this report.