Coronavirus and the car world: UK car industry shuts down
23 Mars 2020 - autocar
Jaguar Land Rover and Bentley latest to suspect UK production; F1 delays new rules until 2022
The rapid global spread of the coronavirus is having a major impact on all aspects of society, including the car industry.
Production facilities are being closed around the world, the dramatic stock market falls has hit the value of virtually every car firm, vehicle sales are dropping dramatically and most major motorsport events have been cancelled.
This is Autocar's round-up of how the car world is being impacted, which will be updated regularly with information and links to more in-depth stories.
Friday 20 March: Jaguar Land Rover and Bentley close plants, China's lesson for the industry
- Jaguar Land Rover and Bentley have both closed their UK plants, effectively halting mainstream car production in the UK. Both firms are aiming to reopen their facilities on 20 April. Full story here.
- With the UK and wider European car production effectively shut down, automotive companies are facing huge financial challenges. So how can they cope? Some answers could be found in China, where the industry is slowly recovering as the country begins to get back to business as the number of coronavirus cases in the country declines. Jim Holder spoke to some car industry sources to pick up some tips. Read his in-depth analysis here.
- Volvo will close its plants in its home country of Sweden and Charleston, South Carolina from 26 March until 14 April to protect its workforce. It has already closed its Belgium factory, which will not reopen until at least 5 April. Volvo's Chinese plant reopened earlier this month.
- New Formula 1 technical rules due to be introduced next season have been delayed until 2022, to enable the tean teams to better soften the financial hit from the disrupted 2020 season. This year's championship won't begin until at least June after the first seven races of the year were either cancelled or postponed. Full story on the new rules delay here.
- If you're missing out on your Formula 1 fix, championship bosses have launched a Virtual Grand Prix esports series. Races will be held in place of every postponed or cancelled 2020 race, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix this Sunday. Run using the PC version of F1 2019, this weekend's event will run on the Bahrain circuit and last 28 laps, half the F1 race distance. Races held on circuits not featured in F1 2019 will be replaced with alternative venues.
Oh, and the performance of all the cars in the game will be equalised, so Mercedes will be unable to run a virtual version of its controversial Dual Axis Steering system...
Thursday 19 March: Honda closes UK plant, driving tests postponed and more F1 races delayed
- Honda has suspended production at its UK plant, where the Civic hatch is built, "in light of increasing difficulties with supply chains and considering the wellbeing" or staff. The firm says it intends to restart production on 6 April, dependent on government advice and market conditions.
- Formula 1 bosses have officially postponed the Dutch, Spanish and Monaco grand prix. The expected postponement of the events, due to be held on the 3, 10 and 24 May respectively, means the season is now scheduled to start with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on 7 June. F1 bosses are "studying the viability of potential alternative dates" for the races, having previously said they still hope to run a calendar or 17 or 18 races this year.
- The Driving Vehicle Standards Agency has postponed all driving tests in the UK due to take place today and tomorrow. In Northern Ireland, driving tests have been suspended for three months.
- Both Ford and GM will suspend production at their North American factories until at least 30 March. The two firms say they will take the time to clean and sanitise their plants in the USA, Canada and Mexico, and both are in talks with unions about keeping workers safe when production resumes. Audi has also suspended production in its Mexico plant due to supply chain issues.
- Hyundai has suspended production at its US factory in Alabama after a worker tested positive for Covid-19. The firm is working with local officials to sanitise the site and determining when it it safe for production to resume.
- With the motorsport world on hold, several race organisers are working with 'virtual' Esports series to help fill the gap. After a successful event last weekend featuring drivers such as Max Verstappen, Torque Esports will run a second All-Star Esports Battle at 1700hrs on Saturday 21 March.
- Meanwhile Nascar, which already sanctions an official iRacing championship, has set up a new eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series. It says the new series will be contested by a mix of current drivers from its various series, along with 'Nascar dignitaries'. The first event will be held on the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway at 1730hrs UK time on Sunday 22 March.
- The Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has closed due to Covid-19, but will offer entertainment to anyone stuck at home by streaming hour-long virtual tours of its Vault. The 'tours' will cost $3 each, with the proceeds going to support staff. For a look at the Petersen exhibits in the main museum, check out Autocar's slideshow here.
Wednesday 18 March: Rolls-Royce and Toyota close UK plants as European industry shuts down
- The Le Mans 24 Hours has been moved back from its planned 13/14 June date until 19/20 September. The organisers say the delay will involve rescheduling several of rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship. The world's most prestigious endurance race was first held in May 1923, but has since been run in June, with two exceptions. In 1956 the event was held in July, while in 1968 civil unrest in France caused the event to be delayed until September. The race has been cancelled ten times: in 1936 due to a labour strike, and between 1940 and 1948 due to World War Two.
- Rolls-Royce has confirmed it will suspend production at its Goodwood manufacturing plant from Monda 23 March. The suspension is currently planned for two weeks, and leads into the already scheduled two-week Easter maintenance shutdown. It added that day-to-day operations will be assured by non-production staff at the company's head office, or working remotely.
Company boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös said: "This action has not been taken lightly, but the health and well-being of our exceptional workforce is first and foremost in our minds. We are a tight-knit community at the Home of Rolls‑Royce and I have no doubt that our resilience will shine through during this extraordinary time.
"As a deeply customer-focused company we are aware that this decision to pause our production will possibly cause some discomfort or inconvenience to a few of our esteemed patrons, for which we apologise while seeking their understanding at this difficult time."
- Porsche has announced that it will stop production for an initial period of two weeks. The decision will affects its Zuffenhausen and Leipzig plants in Germany, with the suspension starting from Saturday 21 March. The firm cited the protection of its personnel due to coronavirus, but added that bottlenecks in its supply chain no longer enabled "orderly production". The firm also said it is anticipating a decline in demand.
- Toyota is suspending production at all of its European plants, including its two UK facilities in Burnaston, Derbyshire and Deeside, Flintshire. Full story here.
- The BMW Group is also in the process of halting production at all of its European factories, along with its site in South Africa. They will all be closed by the end of the week, and is currently scheduled to last until 19 April.
- Honda will suspend production at all of its North American plants for six days from 23 March, due to an "anticipated decline in market demand". It said it will continue to pay staff fully during the suspension, and will also utilise the period to enhance deep cleaning measures. The move will affect plants in the USA, Canada and Mexico.
- The Tesla factory in Fremont, California is set to be forced to close, with officials in Alameda County having reportedly determined it is a "non-essential" business. The plant was originally set to stay open despite a "stay at home" order in the county, but county spokesperson Sargeant Ray Kelly told The Mercury News: "If Tesla was a hospital, if Tesla was a laundromat, if Tesla was a mechanic shop, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But Tesla makes cars, and that's not essential for us to get through this health crisis."
Tuesday 17 March: Ford and VW Group announce plant closures
- Ford will suspend production at its factories in continental Europe from Thursday 19 March. The decision, which the firm expects "will continue for a number of weeks" will affect two plants in Germany and one in Romania. The firm has already suspended production at its Valencia factory after three workers were confirmed with coronavirus. The firm's two UK engine plants are not affected. The firm added that while dealerships in some countries have temporarily closed their sales operations, its dealers are committed to "provide essential maintenance and service across the continent".
- The Volkswagen Group is shutting down most of its factories in Europe, with boss Herbert Diess saying that it's "almost impossible" to forecast the company's 2020 financial performance. Full story here.
- The first three rounds of this year's British Touring Car Championship have been postponed following the lastest UK government advice on limiting mass gatherings. The season was due to begin at Donington Park this weekend. Governing body Motorsport UK is suspending all event permits until at lease April 30. Full story here.
- The Tesla factory in Fremont, California, US is remaining open, despite a "shelter in place" lockdown being issued for the area in which it's located. The plant, where the Model 3 is produced, has been deemed an essential business by Alameda County. According to the Los Angeles Times, Tesla boss Elon Musk has emailed the plant's 10,000 workers saying they can stay at home if they feel unwell or uncomfortable.
- The Goodwood Members' Meeting, which was due to take place at the Sussex race circuit this weekend, has been postponed due to UK government restrictions on public gatherings. Organisers say they're "exploring a range of alternative dates" for the event and will continue planning for July's Festival of Speed and September's Revival meeting "in the hope that both events will be able to go ahead as planned".
Monday 16 March: Automotive industry race to produce ventilators, Vauxhall's UK plant closed
- The UK government is in talks with major automotive manufacturers, including Ford and Honda, about producing ventilators for the NHS in their UK production facilities. Full story here.
- The idea has precedent: in China, the car industry is already helping to battle the spread of coronavirus. Chinese car maker BYD has created production lines at its Shenzen facility to produce face-masks and disinfectants. It says that it's producing 300,000 bottls of disinfectant and five million masks per day, making it the world's largest producer of the latter product.
- The PSA Group will stage phased closures of all of its factories across Europe, including the Vauxhall plants at Ellesmere Port and Luton. Full story here.
- Ford has closed its factory in Valencia, Spain after three worked tested positive for Covid-19. The site was due to shut for from Wednesday to Friday anyway.
In a statement, Ford said: "We have had three positive cases for Covid-19 on the Valencia site in a 24-hour period, two of which involved more isolated workers that did not enter the assembly operations. We are taking quick action to follow the established protocol, including the identification and self-isolation of all employees who had close contact with the affected workers. We will take all other appropriate steps to ensure that risk from this situation is minimised."
Sunday 15 March: Ferrari shutters Maranello factory
- Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is closing the majority of its European plans until 27 March, including six in Italy and those in Serbia and Poland. Ferrari will also close its Maranello factory, while Italian brake manufacturer Brembo is also shutting down. Full story here.
- The World Rally Championship event in Mexico was halted early so that the competing teams would have extra time to get home, given the increase in travel restrictions. The next event, Rally Argentina, has been postponed.
The impact so far
The 2020 Geneva motor show scheduled for early March was cancelled after the rapid outbreak of the coronavirus in Northern Italy. The New York and Beijing motor shows, both scheduled for April, have been postponed.
The Australian Grand Prix was cancelled hours before first practice was due to begin, following the withdrawal of the McLaren team after one of its staff tested positive for Covid-19. The subsequent Bahrain, Vietnam and Chinese grands prix have also been cancelled or postponed. Formula 1 bosses are now looking to start the season in late May or June.