US Auto Production Grinding To A Halt Amidst Virus Fears

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Detroit's Big Three will respond to UAW concerns regarding the novel coronavirus and shutter North American plants.

Responding to pressure from the United Auto Workers union, Detroit's Big Three automakers have shuttered their US production facilities as the novel coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread. Workers were notified after noon on Wednesday, and many see it as an essential move to protect the health and safety of plant personnel. The closures will last until at least March 30th.

"Working with the UAW, and having visited many of our plants yesterday, we need to ensure employees feel safe at work and that we are taking every step possible to protect them," said FCA CEO Mike Manley in a prepared statement. "We will continue to do what is right for our people through this period of uncertainty."

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Across the country and around the world, schools, bars, restaurants, and other public spaces have been shuttered; workers have been encouraged or required to work from home; and governments have attempted to curb large gatherings. Yet despite this, some industries - including automotive - have attempted to navigate the developing COVID-19 outbreak without seriously disrupting business as usual.

But several incidents have all but forced the Big Three's hand. After a slew of auto plant closures in other countries, last week, workers walked out at Fiat Chrysler's Windsor Assembly plant, where the Chrysler Pacifica is built, ahead of another FCA plant walk-out earlier this week. Ford, meanwhile, was prompted to close down the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne after a worker there tested positive for COVID-19. That plant produces the new mid-size Ford Ranger pickup.

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As a result, Ford has said it will suspend production at its North American plants after the Thursday evening shift so that it can deep-clean its facilities and help halt the virus's spread. Production is scheduled to resume on March 30th. General Motors is following a similar tack, with plans for the "systematic orderly suspension of manufacturing operations" one-by-one. FCA has yet to release details of its planned factory shutdowns.

One notable exemption from all this is Tesla - at least for now. The company reportedly received an exemption from a local Bay Area "shelter in place" order, allowing it to keep its Fremont, California factory humming despite a policy meant to keep all non-essential workers at home.

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