With the 75th anniversary of VE day around the corner, comparisons are almost too easy; an exhausted and demoralised public, most of them broke, shortages of key components and raw materials, and mothballed car factories, with a desperate need to return to civilian production and profit. Sound familiar?
三级成人视频But while the need and the desire to return to pre-Covid production (and markets) is simmering, switching car making back on will not be as simple as flicking on the lights and turning on the production lines.
“Getting back into production is undoubtedly going to be very difficult,” says Dr Paul Simmonds of the Warwick Business School. “Social distancing in vehicle manufacturing for complex cars could be a problem and then there's the very complex supply chains that run across the globe, and they’re only as good as their weakest link. It's a hell of challenge.”
三级成人视频Across the world, however, the mighty car plants are starting to stir like waking beasts and not just in China, where most plants are back to some level of production. Volkswagen’s 70 million square foot Golf plant in Wolfsburg, Germany, for example, is already producing at 10 to 15 per cent capacity, with the hope that figure can rise to 40 per cent by next week, but that’s not the complete story.
“With showrooms having been shut for six weeks and retail staff furloughed, we don't want to be building cars for which there's no demand,” says Oliver Larkin, VW Group spokesman. “There are a lot of cars already in showrooms.”
三级成人视频Britain’s small car makers are already anticipating a return to work albeit in a new and very different way. Aston Martin's new DBX luxury sport-utility plant in St Athan, Wales is still on schedule, but it’ll be a while before it is up to full production with a mooted staff of 600. The company is now planning a more modest start of production on May 5.
As Andy Palmer, Aston Martin’s chief executive, explains: “We are still in production trial mode so it’s low volume, with DBX start-of-production coming soon. We have had a small number of employees there this week and will see a steady ramp-up of staff from May 5, with approximately 200 due to be in the plant at the end of the week and another increase from May 11.
“Being a new factory and [making] a large SUV is helpful in maintaining social distancing. We're working in collaboration with unions and staff, with staggered start-and-stop times, regular temperature checks, PPE and hand sanitiser. We can build a full car but we have to build it at a slower rate and in a completely different way.”
三级成人视频BMW’s Rolls-Royce plant at Goodwood in Sussex returns to limited production this Monday, its Hams Hall engine plant in the West Midlands is already up and running, albeit only for its engine-build function and with a single shift, and its Mini plant in Oxford will recommence production on May 18, also with a single shift of about 1,000 staff working at a low level.
“We’ve been putting in huge amounts of work devising new protocols, slowing the line and reducing the number of people working on a car at one time,” said Graham Biggs, BMW communications director.
VW-owned Bentley is planning a return to work on May 11, ramping up to full production on May 18. “Obviously they will be watching next week's announcement from Boris Johnson with some interest,” says Larkin.
三级成人视频An hour and a half down the motorway from Bentley lies the Morgan Motor Company in Malvern, eager to get its brand-new Plus Four sports car into production; the tiny red-brick plant has been completely closed for the last six weeks.
三级成人视频“We're planning a reintroduction in mid-May,” says chief executive Steve Morris. “Obviously the safety and welfare of the workforce is paramount. We can be super flexible in the factory, but there’s a lot of manual work in our cars when we make them. We’re getting human relations and Graham Chapman, our technical director, in next week to look at the phasing and the requirements. Clearly we can’t just open the doors and expect all 250 employees to just walk back in again…”
三级成人视频Larger car makers such as Jaguar Land Rover in the West Midlands, Nissan in Tyne and Wear, Toyota in Burnaston, Derbyshire or BMW’s Mini plant in Oxford might be less flexible than the small specialists, but they do have some inherent advantages, as Simmonds explains.
“Some things are working in their favour,” he says. “Robots don't need to be socially distanced. And the amount of kit a production-line worker uses these days has increased. So gone are the days when lots of people grappled with complex assemblies, now it's all done with pulleys and electro-mechanical hoists.”
三级成人视频It’s the parts issue which might cause the most headaches for car makers coming back. Even VW’s Wolfsburg plant, which sources most parts from suppliers with factories surrounding the city, also gets parts from places like northern Italy.
It's a joined-up world and as Thomas Schmall, chief executive of VW’s components brand, told a news conference last week: “The step-by-step reopening of our plants was important in order to safeguard supplies to overseas locations. Now we need to restart the entire production network while taking comprehensive protective measures and to supply all the vehicle plants of the various brands with components.”
It’s a sentiment that’s been repeated by all the UK’s large manufacturers we’ve spoken to.
“Supply chain will be an issue,” said one. “They’re all multinational, with so many moving parts coming from so many different countries, which are all at different stages on the Covid curve and all moving at different speeds – we won’t be restarting anything until we’ve got adequate parts”.
三级成人视频“Yes, it’s an issue,” says Morgan’s Morris. “We’ve been lucky because we were scheduling for the launch of the Plus Four so we’ve got eight weeks’ supply of BMW components [such as the engines] on site.”
But will existing health and safety measures be enough and who will police them? While communities secretary Robert Jenrick might have told BBC Radio 4’s Today三级成人视频 programme this morning that the Government and Public Health England were working on detailed plans for the reopening of factories, offices and building sites, union sources tell us there have been major issues with social distance and worker protection on construction sites.
Most car makers say they are working with their own health and safety departments, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and trade unions to come up with safe ways of working, but with the HSE spread so thin at this time, it might be that the unions have to provide the policing function for their members’ protection.
“The work of Unite and other trade unions has undoubtedly saved lives during the crisis,” says Des Quin, the union’s national automotive officer, “which has laid bare the ineffective state of the UK’s inspection and enforcement regime.
“Unite is working with all the major automotive employers, as well as firms across the supply chain, to ensure that when staff return to work they are protected from the virus. If cast-iron protection measures are in place, then workplaces should reopen.”
BMW’s Biggs takes the point, saying: “The most important thing is not just that people are safe, but that they feel safe and that their families feel comfortable about them going back to work again.”
Another thing you don’t hear much about is that large, multinational car makers have been working on this problem for some time, devising at a minute level of detail, how to protect their workforces, but whose “science” are they working to? What happens when one country’s lockdown measures clash with another?
Several manufacturers admitted they’d seen this issue, but Biggs at BMW, while recognising the issue, is adamant. “Local guidelines trump every time,” he said. “In Germany, for example, social distancing is 1.5 metres, but we use two metres; we’re being very pragmatic.”
Similarly BMW’s massive Dingolfing plant, which is in the middle of nowhere and uses buses to bring in shift workers; there are strict BMW Germany guidelines on social distancing on buses, which don’t exist in the UK.
三级成人视频So maintain your distance and it’ll be back to work as normal, then?
Well, all except making money, as Simmonds points out.
“With a production line running slower at maybe up to 40 per cent of capacity, there is no way that is profitable. So is it better to stay shut, or run unprofitably? In other words, can you make money when social distancing?”
三级成人视频That dilemma is going to be an issue for the rest of the year as car makers bleed cash and stare into their pocket fluff for coppers. This week Ford’s first quarter results were described as a “train wreck” by analysts, with its chief executive Jim Hackett saying “there is no future.” Even the mighty VW Group is forecasting no profits in the second quarter of this year and negative cash flow.
三级成人视频But as one car maker put it: “This is going to be hard, but it’s something we’re all going to have to go through at some point on the return to the new normal.”
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