London – Automakers and suppliers suspended production and limited employee travel in China as the country grappled with a rapidly spreading SARS-like coronavirus that has killed 170 people.
Fears over the flu-like virus are growing as the number of cases rises and countries warn citizens over travel to China.
Several international air carriers have also temporarily suspended flights to the country, disrupting business travel.
Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus that has infected nearly 7,800 people worldwide — some 7,700 in mainland China and 68 people outside the country — is a leading auto manufacturing, shipping and business hub.
While supply-chain disruptions have been limited so far because many plants are idle for the Chinese New Year holiday, that may change as employers and businesses stay shuttered longer than normal.
Automakers probably will dial back production by 15% in China this quarter after extending holiday shutdowns due to the potentially deadly virus, a top supplier said.
“It’s a fairly fluid situation, as you might imagine,” Aptiv CFO Joseph Massaro told analysts on the earnings call.
He said the effect the virus has on the industry will depend on “the dislocation of labour that went home for the holidays, and how quickly they can all come back -- either from a practical perspective or from a government-mandate perspective.”
Volkswagen Group, the biggest foreign automaker in China, asked about 3,500 employees in Beijing to work from home for two weeks, starting the first day following the city’s Chinese New Year Holiday, from 3-17 Feb.
Volkswagen said on 30 Jan its joint venture with FAW Group will not resume output before 9 Feb and plants in Shanghai it operates with SAIC Motor will restart output on 10 Feb.
Planned deliveries to customers remain unchanged, the company said in a statement.
Volkswagen's Czech automaker Skoda postponed business travel to China, its largest market, for an indefinite period because of the spread of the coronavirus but is not planning any staff evacuations, it said Wednesday.
The Czech Foreign Ministry recommended on 29 Jan people only travel to China if it is “absolutely necessary.”
BMW Group will extend factory holidays at plants in Shenyang by one week, until 9 Feb, over travel restrictions imposed to contain the virus, a company spokesman said 30 Jan.
The measure applies to workers in production, the spokesman added. Office workers will resume working on 3 Feb, but from home.
Robert Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner said the two factories that the world’s largest auto parts maker operates in Wuhan are idled because of the Chinese New Year.
The German company employs 800 people at the sites that make steering components and thermal systems.
“We’re monitoring how the situation develops to see if production might be down for longer,” Denner told reporters on 30 Jan in Stuttgart, Germany. “We’re concerned.”
Ford Motor plans to resume production on 10 Feb at its manufacturing facilities in China with joint venture partner Chongqing Changan Automobile, a spokesman for the US automaker said on 29 Jan.
The plans to resume output in Chongqing and Hangzhou come as local governments have extended Lunar New Year holidays to help rein in the virus.
Canadian supplier Magna International said it is taking several precautions, including lengthened plant closures at its China-based facilities.
Magna operates 68 facilities, from manufacturing to engineering in China, and employs nearly 19,000 people there. Two of the company’s facilities are in Wuhan.
“Magna is closely monitoring all available information from the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control as well as public health authorities in various countries, inside and outside of China,” Magna spokeswoman Tracy Fuerst wrote in an emailed statement.
“Additionally, our internal health and safety team is coordinating information and resources related to the outbreak, with our primary focus on the wellbeing of our employees.”
Magna is also issuing employee health screenings and workplace hygiene measures at China facilities in provinces where the outbreak has been particularly serious. However, the company didn’t identify those plants or their locations. It’s also taking steps to acquire and ship additional medical supplies to China operations.
Automotive News Canada, Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report