. Picture: MASI LOSI
. Picture: MASI LOSI

Local motor companies say they have no plans to halt vehicle production because of the coronavirus, despite a growing number of their parent companies doing so overseas.

“Currently there are no planned disruptions to any of our manufacturing lines across the country,” the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa) said on Tuesday afternoon. It made the statement after a meeting with vehicle importers and suppliers of automotive components.

Earlier in the day, German group Volkswagen announced it had begun to suspend production at several European car plants and would shut down the rest in coming days. They will all close for an initial two weeks. Toyota, Peugeot, Citroën, Fiat, Renault and Ford are all closing some or all of their European plants because of the coronavirus.

Volkswagen, whose multiple brands include VW, Audi, Bentley and Porsche, says it is halting production because assembly-line layouts at its car plants do not keep workers far enough apart to avoid coronavirus contagion.

In principle, the same applies at SA’s assembly plants, which are based on those in Europe. However, Naamsa CEO Mike Mabasa says that by using small teams of four or five workers on each assembly station, who have no direct contact with other teams, risks are controlled.

Companies say they have introduced stringent hygiene, employee welfare, and meeting and travel restrictions to minimise the chances of coronavirus infection across their manufacturing facilities and offices. 

“All local vehicle manufacturers will continue to work closely with their supply-chain component manufacturers and partners to monitor developments locally and globally,” said Naamsa.

They are also trying to assess the effect of the European shutdowns on local sales. Most vehicle models sold in SA, including those marketed by local manufacturers, are imported. Though companies have stocks to meet immediate demand, prolonged European shutdowns would eventually affect availability.

Volkswagen SA, for example, builds the Polo and Vivo cars but imports the Golf, Tiguan, Kombi, Touareg, Caravelle and Up!, among others.

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