Asian and European automakers with plants across the Midwest and the South have blazed the trail of restarting operations after weeks of coronavirus lockdown. They reported limited production and concerns over parts supply, as well as heavy safety protocols such as thermal screening, but no reported outbreaks of COVID-19 as the week came to an end.
Scheduled to join them this week are the Detroit 3, Tesla, Subaru and Volkswagen. The timing is critical as sales continue to rebound and inventory begins to dwindle for many popular models. Nissan is an outlier, with plants in Tennessee and Mississippi set to restart the last week of May or sometime in June.
Daimler's Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala., was one of the first in the U.S. to resume production in late April, but it will shut again this week due to a lack of parts from Mexico, Bloomberg News reported.
Hyundai's plant in Montgomery, Ala., has been open for two weeks with one shift of workers assembling all three vehicles that are normally made at the plant: the Santa Fe crossover, and the Elantra and Sonata sedans. The three are built on the same line and at a normal pace, despite safety measures, but parts are limited, the company said.
"We developed our reopening plans based on availability of parts on site or at supplier facilities," Hyundai said in a statement to Automotive News. Plans to resume all three shifts on May 26 depend, in part, on the supply chain. "We continue to work with our suppliers in Mexico as we move to full production," the company said.
The plant, which also makes engines, is sequencing its model mix based on parts supply and dealer demand. Once back to full production, the automaker also has the capacity to schedule overtime should vehicle demand increase.
Hyundai brought some of the safety protocols from plants in South Korea, where the company has more experience with the coronavirus. Those measures include thermal scanning, face masks, modifications to assembly tasks to assure social distancing, transparent barriers between work areas, and staggered lunch breaks to reduce congestion in areas where workers congregate.
Kia resumed assembling its popular Telluride three-row crossover at its West Point, Ga., plant also two weeks ago, along with the Sorento crossover and the Optima sedan, with reduced hours. Parts are one of the limiting factors. "We continue to monitor our supply chain daily for any foreseeable impact to our production plans," Kia said.