16 March, 2020

Factories shut across Europe as coronavirus takes hold

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), Volkswagen Group (VW), Ford and Renault-Nissan have all halted production at plants in Europe as the coronavirus (COVID-19) runs rife across the continent.

A mixture of parts shortages, staff welfare and confirmed cases are combining to cripple European vehicle production. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified the continent as the ‘epicentre’ of the outbreak. Italy is currently on ‘lockdown’ and Spain has declared a national emergency, with plants in these countries most affected.

FCA said production for its Fiat and Maserati units would stop until 27 March at the Italian plants of Melfi, Pomigliano, Cassino, Mirafiori, Grugliasco and Modena, while factories in Poland and Serbia will also close. Ford will shut down operations at its plant in Valencia, Spain, as three staff members tested positive for COVID-19, while VW is suspending production in Slovakia and Martorell, Spain. Renault-Nissan will also stop manufacturing at its plants in Barcelona and northern Spain.

‘The temporary suspension continues the implementation of a comprehensive set of actions in response to the COVID-19 emergency and enables the Group to effectively respond to the interruption in market demand by ensuring the optimisation of supply,’ said FCA. ‘In particular, the suspension of production is being facilitated to enable the Group to be ready to commence production promptly once market conditions allow.’

The company has accelerated the deployment of working remotely, and said that this option was now widely available to employees across the world.

Confirmed cases

Ford has confirmed the disruption at its Valencia plant is due to worker infection. ‘We have had three positive cases of COVID-19 in the Ford Valencia plant in the past 24 hours,’ the carmaker said.

It has instructed all office-based staff to work from home until further notice. ‘We are instructing much of our global workforce – except those in business-critical roles that cannot be done away from Ford facilities – to work remotely until further notice. The action will additionally help reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus while maximising the health of our business,’ the company stated.

Emergency situation

The declaration of a state-of-emergency has forced VW to suspend production at its site in Slovakia for the foreseeable future. At the same time, Nissan's two factories in Barcelona stopped work last week as a wheels supplier was affected by a lockdown in the nearby town of Odena because of a coronavirus outbreak there. The plants are expected to resume production this week.

SEAT’s factory in Martorell, Spain, is also closed, a situation that unions fear could lead to staff layoffs.

With COVID-19 cases still increasing, this raft of closures is likely only the beginning of widespread European manufacturing disruption. While UK plants are yet to see closures, the country’s government has called on those involved in manufacturing to help produce ventilators for hospitals, with automotive suggested as one industry that could be utilised.