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Automakers adjust to ‘new normal’ as they prepare to reopen plants

Kia, Volkswagen and Mercedes are starting up Monday, with Honda getting people back into the factory by May 1. Fiat Chrysler and Ford are formally scheduled to start up on a rolling basis on May 4, and GM has also started advising workers they will be coming back next week. May 4 also should see Tesla, Toyota, Hyundai, BMW and Volvo start up. Subaru is set for May 11.

However, the process of reopening won’t be like flipping a switch. It will take some time to, among other things, get everyone used to the new plant layout and processes, automakers have pointed out.
The main challenge will be ensuring that employees can take their place on assembly lines without having to fear getting potentially deadly COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Hundreds already have, with several manufacturers, including Fiat Chrysler and Ford, reporting a number of fatalities.

“There is no going back to the normal for the foreseeable future. We have to adjust to the new normal,” said Chris Reynolds, Toyota’s chief administrative officer for North American manufacturing operations. The May 4 restart date is “an opening day, not the day we’re going begin making cars,” he noted.
The Japanese automaker, which operates a network of parts and assembly plants in the Midwest and South, offered some insight into the steps it is taking to protect workers when they begin to report back next week. Work stations have been reengineered to increase the distance between workers, said Sean Suggs, president of Toyota’s big assembly plant in Mississippi. Even cafeterias have been redesigned, and plastic sheets have been installed between sinks in factory restrooms.

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