General Motors‘ American and Canadian vehicle assembly plants started to come back online on May 18th following a two-month shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some workers had expressed concern over returning to work while the COVID-19 pandemic was still ongoing, but the automaker released a statement this week indicating the production restart has gone smoothly.
“The restart of vehicle production at General Motors’ component and assembly plants in North America has gone smoothly thanks to strong teamwork,” the statement said. “Our comprehensive safety procedures are working well, and our suppliers have done a great job implementing their return-to-work strategies and safety playbooks. We are now in a position to increase production to meet strengthening customer demand and strong dealer demand.”
The automaker also confirmed that certain plants, such as those that build its popular crossover models, will be operating on two production shifts in the coming weeks to help meet demand for the vehicles, up from one. Its truck plants, which include Flint Assembly, Fort Wayne Assembly and Wenztville Assembly, also moved from one shift to three shifts this week in an effort to meet the growing demand for the pickups. The rest of GM’s U.S. vehicle assembly plants will operate on one shift for the time being to reduce the chance workers will come in contact with someone who may have COVID-19.
Philip Kienle, GM’s vice president of North American manufacturing, said previously that the automaker will gradually ramp-up production with the goal of being back at full capacity by mid-to-late June. At the same time, though, the automaker is trying to pace production with demand, which remains lower than normal due to the pandemic.
“Not every facility will ramp up as fast as possible,” Kienle said. “Ideally, in a perfect world, by around June 15th, all of our facilities would be operating at their original capacity. But, again, I just give the caveat: market demand. We’re not going to override market demand.”
In an interview Bloomberg this week, AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said dealerships are in dire need of General Motors pickups, which have remained a high-demand product even amid the pandemic. GM was already running low on pickup supply due to last year’s 40-day UAW strike even prior to the pandemic.
“if they can restart the pickup truck plants first, i’ll be standing here in line saying ‘send me all you can get'”, Jackson said.
General Motors wrote a 40-page handbook for employees earlier this month, which outlines the various safety measures it has put in place to protect its hourly workers. Such safety protocols include taking employees’ temperatures, providing them with proper PPE and implementing social distancing measures where possible. The handbook was developed using proven practices that were already put in place in GM’s other plants in China and South Korea.