European automakers close factories, cut output as coronavirus hits


BARCELONA/MILAN — Europe's major car and parts makers rushed on Wednesday to close factories and cut output in Italy and considered sending workers home elsewhere, in the first signs that coronavirus is disrupting the region's struggling automotive industry.

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Fiat Chrysler said it was temporarily halting operations at some of its Italian factories and would reduce production in response to Europe's largest coronavirus outbreak.

The Italian-American carmaker has stepped up measures across its facilities, including intensive cleaning of all work and rest areas, to support the government's directives to curb the spread of the infectious disease.

Italian tire maker Pirelli had said on Tuesday it was cutting production at its Settimo Torinese plant in northern Italy after a worker tested positive for the virus.

Italy is the worst-affected country in the world after China and the unprecedented lockdown of the country has heaped fresh pressure on the region's ailing car sector.

Britain's biggest carmaker Jaguar Land Rover said an employee at one of its British satellite facilities, a small site which is not one of the firm’s manufacturing locations, has tested positive for coronavirus and is self-isolating.

“We have informed anyone who has been in close contact with them at work and told them also to self-isolate for 14 days,” the company said in a statement.

Peugeot owner PSA was beefing up safety rules on Wednesday at its Mulhouse plant with a 5,000-strong workforce in eastern France after one employee tested positive, a spokeswoman said. The man has been on sick leave since Feb. 29.

The actions come as Volkswagen said it may send staff home temporarily from two plants in Spain - one run by its Spanish unit Seat near Barcelona and another in the Navarra area - if supply issues worsen.

"The Martorell plant is currently working normally. However, there are several risks derived from COVID-19, which has affected the supply chain," a Seat spokesman said.

VW's Czech Skoda unit also said there was the risk of a shortage of parts from China that might affect several of its plants.


The disruptions are the latest blow to Europe's car makers, which are struggling with weak global demand and high costs of meeting the region's tough emissions targets.

The virus has already taken its toll on business in China, the world's top car market, where vehicle sales tumbled last month as customers stayed home due to the epidemic.

An industry association warned last week that car sales in Italy, Europe's third-largest economy, could shrink by more than 15%.

Seat would make temporary layoffs if it had to cut production due to supply issues, the spokesman said.

Seat union representative Matias Carnero said the company's supply chain was being affected by the worsening coronavirus outbreak.

"It all looks like it is going to be requested," said Carnero, a representative for UGT, the main labour union at Seat, referring to the potential temporary layoffs.

Under temporary layoffs, Spanish workers are normally paid part of their salary.

The company spokesman said the duration of these layoffs had not been discussed yet, but Carnero said they could last between two and five weeks, adding that this could potentially affect about 7,000 people at the plant.

Italian brake maker Brembo warned on Tuesday that its northern Italian production could struggle if the government introduced even more stringent measures to tackle the spread of the coronavirus.

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