"The industry has been cautious for a while," observed Bernard Swiecki, director of the Automotive Communities Partnership, an auto project-monitoring program associated with the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. "A number of projects have been walked up to the point of making a final commitment, but then put into suspended animation. So there is a bit of pent-up investment just waiting to get a green light of confidence.
"But there are also a number of companies that just can't wait for that green light," he said. "They need to position themselves to gain maximum benefits when the recovery comes."
Companies often invest during robust times to keep up with customers, capitalize on growth in a particular segment or hire additional workers to raise production levels at existing plants.
That doesn't capture the outlook for the North American marketplace this year.
In the maw of the coronavirus emergency, millions of Americans have been put out of work, and there is little sign of new opportunity in any corner.
But not all recessions are created equal. The last major recession of 2008-09 caught the auto industry with severe manufacturing overcapacity. Plants closed in 2009.
"This time around, we're much leaner, and manufacturers have even been straining to meet demand," Swiecki said. "The industry sees this year's crisis as not being permanent.