Coronavirus and the car world: Nissan extends plant closures
How COVID-19 is affecting the car world: Jaguar Land Rover lending press cars, car firms expanding into ventilator and face mask production, Vauxhall extending breakdown offer
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.
*Thursday 2 April: Vauxhall supports NHS workers*
*●* *Nissan* has extended the production halt at its Sunderland plant "throughout April". Production has been suspended at the factory since 17 March, and Nissan says the majority of employees have been furloughed under the UK government scheme.
The Japanese firm has also suspended production at its Spanish plants, introducing 'Force Majeure' temporary lay off measures at its sites in Cataluny and Cantabria.
In a statement, Nissan said it was "grateful for the financial assistance offered by national governments to support our 15,000 direct employees in Europe, our partner companies and suppliers."
*●* *Vauxhall* has extended its Roadside Assistance programme, usually reserved for owners of new cars, to all Vauxhall-driving NHS workers.
The move means NHS staff can call the manufacturer in the event of a breakdown, be it at home or on the road, and have their car repaired or recovered to an approved Vauxhall workshop. The offer is extended to all Vauxhalls, regardless of age, mileage and service history.
*●* *Williams* Advanced Engineering is one of a number of car firms part of a consortium helping to re-engineer an existing ventilator design in response to the Ventilator Challenge UK project.
The firm, which was formed by the Williams F1 team to apply technology it had developed in other industries, is working with firms including McLaren, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, Siemens and BAR Systems to re-engineer a Smiths Group ParaPAC300 ventilator design in order to rapidly manufacture 5000 units for the NHS. More than 50 WAE staff members have been involved in the project, with the firm developing 3D CAD modelling, re-engineering test equipment and working on rapid prototype development.
*●* *Skoda* is helping charities and volunteers in the Czech Republic by giving them free access to more than 200 vehicles and 150 electric scooters used by its HoppyGo car sharing platform. The firm is also working with the Czech Technical University in Prague to develop a 3D printing process to produce ventilators.
*●* This weekend should have been the inaugural Vietnam Grand Prix, so the sport's bosses are staging a second *F1 Esport Virtual Grand Prix*. Five current F1 drivers have signed up so far: Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, Alex Albon, George Russell and Nicholas Latifi.
Those five will be joined by an assortment of random guest stars including F1 race winner Johnny Herbert (who led the first Virtual GP after massively cutting the first turn) and cricket star Ben Stokes. With the new Hanoi circuit not featured in the F1 2019 game, this weekend's event will be staged on the Albert Park circuit used for the Australian GP. The event starts at 2000hrs on Sunday, with coverage on Sky Sports F1.
*●* If you're looking for distractions to fill your new-found time at home, why not configure your dream *Bentley*? Autocar has set up a competition for those who do, and you could win a tour of the British firm's Crewe factory. Click here for full details.
*Wednesday 1 April: Seat's windscreen wiper-powered ventilator*
*●* *Seat* is the latest car brand to start producing ventilators, having started producing units at its Martorell factory near Barcelona for local healthcare authorities.
The automated ventilators were designed by a team of engineers, and are now undergoing final testing before approval is given for mass production. The ventilators use a number of parts adapted from Seat cars, including windscreen wiper motors, gearbox shafts and printed gears. 150 employees will produce them.
*●* *Volkswagen* has extended the production suspension at its German factories by five days, saying the decision is primarily due to the sharp fall in demand for new cars and supply chain issues.
The firm is now intending to resume production at its car and components plants on 19 April, and says it is working on a number of measures to ensure the health and safety of staff.
*Tuesday 31 March: Jaguar Land Rover lends out press fleet, Lamborghini makes masks, PSA helping ventilators*
*●* *Jaguar Land Rover*** **is lending more than 160 vehicles to organisiations including the British Red Cross and National Health Service to help deliver essential supplies to vulnerable people. The vehicles are taken from the firm's press fleet, and include 27 examples of the new Defender. Full story here.
*● **Lamborghini* is helping the health service in Italy by producing surgical masks and plexiglass shields at its Sant-Agata factory. The Italian firm's in-house saddlery is currently producing 1000 masks a day, which are being donated to the Sant'Orsola-Malpighi Hospital in Bologna.
The plexiglass shields are being produced at a rate of 200 units a day using 3D printers in Lamborghini's carbon fibre production plant and research and development centre.
*● *In the United States, *GM* is also temporarily moving into face mask production, having developed a new production line for them in seven days. It expects to deliver 20,000 masks by 8 April and says that, when up to speed, it will be able to produce 1.5 million masks a month.
*● *The *PSA Group *is part of a consortium that is aiming to produce 10,000 ventilators in response to requests by the French government. PSA, whose brands include Citroen, DS, Peugeot and Vauxhall/Opel, is working with Schneider Electric and Valet to help ventilator firm Air Liquide dramatically scale up its production capabilities.
PSA has been working on the project sine 22 March, and will produce components for the ventilators that will be assembled at Air Liquide's base, where a number of PSA employee volunteers will be working.
*●* *Ford* has provided an update on its efforts to work with GE Healthcare to produce a third-party ventilator. The firm will begin production of a ventilator design licensed from medical firm Airon at its Rawsonville Components Plant in Michigan, with the target of producing 50,000 within 100 days – and 30,000 a month from then on, if needed.
Meanwhile, Ford has delayed plans to resume car production at its other North America plants. It has initially planned on resuming production at various dates between 6 and 14 April, but these will now be pushed back.
*Monday 30 March: Car and motorsport industries ramp up efforts to help NHS, Detroit show postponed*
*● *The *Paris motor show* due to be held in September has cancelled, although event organisers are still planning to run a number of smaller 'festival' and business-to-business events. Full story here.
*● *The* Mercedes F1 *team's Brixworth-based powertrain division has helped UCL to develop a new breathing aid that can help keep COVID-19 patients out of intensive care. The device took around 100 hours to develop, and is set to begin clinical trials soon.
Meanwhile, a consortium that included Ford and the seven UK-based Formula 1 teams has received more than 10,000 orders for ventilators from the UK government, after the rapid development of a version that it can produce quickly to scale. Read the full story on both initiatives here.
*● *The *Detroit motor show* is the latest major automotive event to be axed due to the coronavirus outbreak. America's longest running motor show was due to switch to a new June date this year, but organisers anticipate the exhibition centre in which it is due to be held being turned into a temporary hospital by the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It is one of more than 100 convention centres and similar facilities across the USA earmarked for such use.
That means the first summer Detroit show will be delayed until 2021, when it is planned to run on 14-26 June. The cornavirus pandemic has already led to the cancellation of this year's Geneva motor show, with the Beijing and New York shows both postponed.
*● *The *PSA Group* initially suspended production at all its plants, including the *Vauxhall* factories in Luton and Ellesmere Port, until 27 March, but it has moved this back to a new, unspecified date due to the continued impact of the coronavirus.
PSA says it is developing a new health protocol to reinforce preventive measures for when production does resume. Steps will include regularly taking temperatures, wearing of masks on site, hourly cleaning of tools and work surfaces, and a three-hour waiting time during exchanges of parts.
*● **Volkswagen* will release all of its employees in Germany with medical qualifications who volunteer to work in the country's public health service with full pay for up to 15 days.
The firm has also arranged for around £35 million worth of medical equipment to be shipped from China to Germany, where it will be distributed to medical facilities in the Lower Saxony region.
*Friday 27 March: Ferrari plots return to production*
*● *Some positive news from Italy: *Ferrari* is planning to resume production at its Maranello plant on 14 April. Full story here.
*● *Seven UK-based *Formula 1 teams* – Red Bull, Racing Point, Haas, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG, Renault and Williams – have put their rivalry on hold to form the Project Pitlane initiative, responding to the UK government's call for help producing medical equipment. The teams claim to have made "significant progress" in three areas: reverse engineering existing medical devices so they can be used to treat COVID-19 patients; support in scaling production of existing ventilator designs; and the rapid design and prototyping of a new ventilator design.
In a statement, the teams said they would "pool the resources and capabilities of its member teams to greatest effect, focusing on the core skills of the F1 industry: rapid design, prototype manufacture, test and skilled assembly." They added that they "remain ready to support in other areas requiring rapid, innovative technology responses to the unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic."
*Thursday 26 March: MG loans EVs to NHS, Goodwood Festival of Speed delayed*
*● MG *will supply up to 100 electric ZS models to National Health Service agencies, to support the fight against coronavirus by adding transport capacity. The machines will be loaned free-of-charge for up to six month, with distribution done by MG dealers. The first six models have been supplied to Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Trust.
*● *One of the biggest events on the UK motoring calendar, the *Goodwood Festival of Speed, *has been postponed. The event was due to be held in July, but organisers are now looking at dates in late summer or early autumn. Full story here.
*● *Meanwhile, one of the biggest events of the US motorsport calendar, the *Indianapolis 500, *has also been postponed. The 104th running of the flagship event of the IndyCar Series has been switched from 24 May to 23 August. It will be the first time in the events history that it has taken place outside of May. The event has only previously not been held during the First and Second World Wars.
The Indy 500 is the culmination of a month-long build-up, which traditionally kicks off with an IndyCar race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course. That event has now moved to the weekend of 4 July, where it will be held as part of a double-header with the Nascar stock car race on the oval. It will be the first time America's top two motorsport championships have run at the same circuit.
*Tuesday 24 March: Aston Martin, McLaren and Morgan close plants*
*● Aston Martin*, *McLaren* and *Morgan* have all suspended production at their UK plants following the latest government advice thar people should minimise travel and only leave their homes for essential work. Read the full story here.
*● *Trying to work out exactly what the coronavirus outbreak means for motorists? Click here to read our *essential advice for drivers* during the Covid-19 pandemic.
*● *Around the world, the car industry is stepping in to help with production of ventilators and other medical apparatus in a bid to combat the coronavirus. The UK government continues to work with a number of firms, and in the USA *Ford* has teamed up with 3M to start manufacturing Powered Air-Purifying Respirators, using off-the-shelf parts used, in part for the seat-cooling systems of the F-150 pick-up.
Ford is also working with GE Healthcare to produce a simplified version of GE's ventilator. It is also starting to assemble more than 100,000 face masks for healthcare workers.
Meanwhile, *Tesla's* Elon Musk says he bought 1255 ventilators from China and donated them to medical staff in Los Angeles. Musk says China had an oversupply of the ventilators. Tesla, along with GM and Ford, is believed to be in talks with the US government about ventilator production.
*● *The *Azerbaijan Grand Prix, *which had been due to take place on 7 June, is the latest Formula 1 race to be postponed. That means the Canadian GP on 14 June is the first scheduled event, although it also seems likely to be postponed. F1 bosses say they are still aiming to hold a 15-18 race season, both by racing during the usual August summer break and extending the season past late November.
*● *The UK motorsport calendar is also continuing to be hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Motorsport UK, which governs the sport in the country, has said it will extend the suspension of permits for motorsport events until at least 30 June. Motorsport UK chairman David Richards said the body "has a vital role to play with its community in reinforcing that, at this time of national emergency, we must all stay at home to play our part in protecting the NHS and ultimately saving lives."
He added: "The government have required that we effectively lock-down for a period of three weeks, however given that the most vulnerable in our society are required to isolate for three months, it is evident that the most responsible course of action was to propose a longer suspension of our sport. When we reflect back on this time, it will be a brief, but vital, hiatus from our everyday motorsport life and we must put this in perspective."
*● *In line with Motorsport UK's decision, the British Touring Car Championship has now postponed the first five events of its season, with the events at Thruxton on 17 May and Oulton Park on 14 June now delayed.
*Monday 23 March: More plant closures, US car firms to start ventilator production*
*● **Driving tests* and *MOTs* for heavy vehicles have been suspended for up to three months in England, Scotland and Wales. The move mirrors a separate decision made by the government in Northern Ireland. The UK government says people scheduled to take a test that has now been cancelled will be given first priority when they resume. But tests will still run for workers who have a critical need, including NHS staff and goods delivery drivers.
The MOT suspension applies only to heavy vehicles, such as buses, lorries and trailers. Any vehicles with a test due in this period will be issued with a Certificate of Temporary Extension (CTE). MOTs for cars remain running but "under review" with the Department for Transport promising "an update in due course."
*● **Ford's* Dagenham engine plant will be closed from today onwards, with the Bridgend engine plant in Wales following suit on Wednesday. The break in operations is currently scheduled for a four-week period, with the firm bringing forward its regular summer closure. The shutdown will be extended across non-business critical Ford UK operations, and workers will receive "payments at least equivalent to their base pay."
*● **Transport for London* is suspending all road charging schemes in the capital from today, to ensure critical workers – especially those in the NHS – and supply deliveries can travel more freely. The move means drivers will no longer have to pay the Congestion Charge, Low Emission Zone or Ultra Low Emission Zone fees. TFL noted that it was key to keep the roads clear for emergency services and critical workers, urging people to travel as little as possible.
*● *In similar fashion to efforts seen in the UK, leading American car firms are set to step in to assist with ventilator production in the United States. In a tweet, US President Donald Trump said that *Ford, GM and Tesla* "are being given the go ahead" to make ventilators and other metal products. Few further specifics of what role the cars firms will play have yet to be announced.
*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.
*PSA Group closes European factories to prevent coronavirus spread *
*Fiat Chrysler, Ferrari close factories amid coronavirus outbreak *
*Volkswagen braces for “very difficult year” as pandemic shuts factories*