FCA Closes Italian Facilities Over Coronavirus, Ditto for Autotorino Dealer Group
In what is perhaps the shape of things to come here in North America, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has decided to temporarily close several Italian factories in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Closures will be enacted at Pomigliano d’Arco, Melfi, Atessa and Cassino — with each factory stalled for several days between Wednesday and Saturday.
This comes after FCA took steps to limit the number of people passing through the doors of its Italian offices and factories. Late last month, the automaker issued a letter to suppliers and prospective visitors explaining that it would refuse anyone who recently visited Asia or any of the Italian municipalities initially affected by the virus outbreak. It then set up sanitation sites to encourage employee hand washing while staff attempted to sterilize their respective workplaces — a valiant effort that was probably doomed from the start.
FCA said daily production rates will be lowered to accommodate the adapted manufacturing processes, one that aims for lessened employee contact. While it believes this will help slow the spread of COVID-19, experts have begun suggesting most regions are too far along to avoid mass contagion. Still, staggered shifts and more employees working from home should at least delay its progress, allowing for a lessened impact over time. That buys factories more production time and helps keep hospitals from being overrun — a problem the Italian government admits is occuring.
However, building cars, even at relaxed volumes, is pointless when there’s nobody to buy them. Italy’s largest dealer group, Autotorino, says it will close its operations to contend with viral complications. On Tuesday, Chairman Plinio Vanini said via Facebook that the closure should last until April 3rd — noting that the company felt the decision was “the most effective and courageous way to combat the current situation.”
Automotive News reports that Autotorino had 1,700 employees and a reported revenue of 1.22 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in 2019. Its dealerships in the northern Italian regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, Veneto, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia sell automobiles from the Fiat, Jeep, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Hyundai, Kia, Mitsubishi and Subaru brands.
Even though most European factories remain open, the number of people infected with coronavirus continues to climb. Italian tire manufacturer Pirelli plans to limit production for several days at Settimo Torinese after a worker tested positive for the virus; it’s probably just a matter of time before more European automakers and parts suppliers have to make similar calls.
Meanwhile, news out of China continues to suggest that factories are reopening as people return to work. That would seem to offer hope that businesses won’t confront too much downtime and that the virus isn’t impossible to manage after a sizable outbreak. Yet current reporting often states that Chinese factories are resuming operation without offering any clarification. Many of the freshly opened facilities are operating at reduced capacities, with manufacturers frequently noting their Chinese suppliers are working with half their usual staff. Plenty still appear to be closed, however.
In Hubei province, all non-essential factories are required to remain closed by decree of the Chinese government. That basically means food production and medical supplies only, with most other facilities forced to remain closed until at least March 20th.
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