The playbooks Ford Motor Co. will use to restart assembly lines and reopen offices in Europe and the U.S. have been written largely by its team in China, which was first to be hit by — and recover from — the coronavirus outbreak.
As early as February, Ford's salaried employees in China were sending videos to their U.S. counterparts showing how they were working from home and emotionally managing the abrupt changes, providing inspiration for colleagues who would soon be forced to do the same.
By early March, Ford China CEO Anning Chen and other executives shared what they learned about disinfecting vehicles at dealerships, creating safer factory shift patterns and even mining connected-vehicle data to predict recovery patterns.
The tutorials flowing back to Ford headquarters have provided some clarity in an unprecedented crisis that idled factories and choked off revenue.
"They've really helped us tremendously," Ford COO Jim Farley told Automotive News. "There was very little playbook in '08-'09. We didn't know how fast the industry would come back. What's different about this one is we have China."
The world's largest vehicle market was hammered by the coronavirus in January, months before Ford's U.S. operations were affected. Today, the business there is recovering, albeit slowly.
Chen said roughly 90 percent of the unit's salaried employees are back to work, and its assembly plants are again churning out vehicles.
First-quarter sales there were down 35 percent, but Chen said March sales industrywide had recovered to 70 percent of year-ago levels, and he expects April will reach 80 to 90 percent.
"The whole team is very, very motivated to support our global efforts," Chen said in a phone interview. "We've provided everything. Much of what we have done here is being adopted or further improved and applied to the rest of the world."