Production lines are being modified to keep workers apart, with plastic shields, curtains and full protective equipment. In some cases, procedures are being modified to maintain distancing. Equipment and tools are being disinfected regularly, and thoroughly cleaned between shifts.
Those procedures could mean about a 12.5 percent loss in productivity per shift, analysts say, a point that may not be important for now, with demand remaining depressed. “’Full capacity’ is likely to be significantly changed,” said Mark Fulthorpe of IHS, who added that an hour per shift would be dedicated to maintenance and hygiene.
At the same time, “work from home” for white-collar workers is increasingly being seen as a long-term solution rather than a temporary remedy. PSA Group, which had been pushing many workers to telecommute before the crisis, said it would make the option available to 80,000 of its 200,000 employees worldwide. Yann Vincent, the group’s director of human resources, portrays it as a quality of life issue that will allow workers a greater choice of places to live.
Mercedes-Benz workers at its U.S. headquarters will work from home until the end of this year – and possibly longer, U.S. CEO Nicholas Sparks told Automotive News Europe sister publication Automotive News in May. “We are able to function effectively and it gives people an opportunity” for better work-life balance, he said, describing the policy as a “trial” without a firm expiration.
Tschiesner said he was surprised at how well the auto industry took to telecommuting, and said it would have benefits in the future. “The digital way of working has gone smoothly,” he said, adding that it has meant shorter, more productive meetings and faster decision-making.
“I hope some of the top managers are saying, ‘Let’s keep some of the good things from the crisis in terms of being faster.’ The automotive industry in the past was relatively slow in analytical things, such as decision-making, because of lots of pre-discussion. I think now we’re seeing a completely different management style.”
Because the pandemic is not over, automakers, suppliers and analysts are hesitant to make predictions. All agree, however, that there are opportunities and lessons to be learned as the industry struggles to navigate shifts in powertrains, profit centers, ownership and connectivity.
“The level of structural change at this point is tremendous,” Tschiesner said. “In a way, the coronavirus crisis could be a catalyst event, that this transition is managed faster and even more focused.”