A sculpture made of scrapped cars in Wuhan, China, birthplace of the virus that brought the global car industry to its knees. Picture: REUTERS
A sculpture made of scrapped cars in Wuhan, China, birthplace of the virus that brought the global car industry to its knees. Picture: REUTERS

To curb the spread of the coronavirus the motor industry has largely stopped building cars across the globe, except ironically in Wuhan, China, birthplace of the pandemic, where Honda has reopened its factory.

Elsewhere, car plants are switching to producing urgently needed medical equipment instead.

In the US, General Motors (GM) is producing ventilators at its Indiana plant as officials warn that the country may need tens of thousands of additional ventilators. GM aims to produce 10,000 ventilators a month by the northern hemisphere summer.

Other motor companies are working to produce ventilators, masks and other medical equipment. Ford said on Monday it will produce 50,000 ventilators over the next 100 days at a plant in Michigan in co-operation with General Electric’s health-care unit, and can then build 30,000 per month as needed to treat patients afflicted with the coronavirus.

Toyota is working with companies to produce ventilators and respirators, and GM has also begun producing surgical masks at a plant in Michigan.

Mercedes-Benz has offered to use its 3D printers to produce medical equipment that is urgently needed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The German carmaker already uses 3D-printing machines to produce up to 150,000 plastic and metal components annually.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will produce more than 1-million protective face masks, which it will donate to medical staff in the US.

Local vehicle manufacturers, with the ministry of trade & industry, are investigating the adoption of similar measures in SA either by locally producing medical equipment or importing it from their overseas principals.

All local vehicle plants are in lockdown, but Mike Mabasa, CEO of motor industry umbrella body the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa), says local original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are exploring possibilities with their overseas principals and are due to provide feedback on Thursday.

During the 21-day lockdown a number of motor companies have stepped in to assist providers of essential services.

Jaguar Land Rover SA has made 11 vehicles available to the SA Red Cross Society to keep the organisation mobile in its efforts to control and minimise the spread of the coronavirus.

The vehicles are supplied free of charge and are being dispatched nationwide to boost transport capacity for the society. Red Cross volunteers are being deployed to critical areas where they will engage communities and educate on how the virus is transmitted and how to avoid risks.

A number of local motoring companies are loaning vehicles to assist with support and relief efforts during the lockdown. Picture: SUPPLIED
A number of local motoring companies are loaning vehicles to assist with support and relief efforts during the lockdown. Picture: SUPPLIED

Isuzu Motors SA (IMSAf) has made its media fleet of vehicles available to Gift of the Givers, which will use the bakkies to transport medical equipment and other essential supplies during the Covid-19 crisis.

Gift of the Givers has set up a Covid-19 testing facility in Johannesburg and intends to extend the service to Durban while supporting medical professionals with protective wear and supplying essential medical equipment.

Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa (FMCSA) has partnered with several local NGOs to provide vehicles for their use — including during the 21-day lockdown — to assist their community support and relief efforts. This includes Gift of the Givers, Laudium Disaster Management and the SA Red Cross Society.

Automotive workshops remain closed after the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) failed in its bid to have the retail aftermarket automotive industry declared an essential service. This includes tyre, parts and accessory retailers. However, some retail businesses can register to provide support services to essential service providers on request.

Payment holidays

The big local banks have implemented payment relief on financed vehicles, with Standard Bank announcing a three-month instalment holiday to customers earning R7,500 or less. It applies to qualifying customers not in arrears on any of their accounts as at March 31. Customers who opt for the relief will see their interest and bank charges capitalised over the term of their loan agreements.

Absa has also implemented three-month payment relief to eligible customers in good standing with their repayments and in need of short-term liquidity relief.

“We urge those of our customers who are able to continue making their payments, to do so. This will enable us to extend these measures to many more clients who are struggling,” said Daniel Mminele, group CEO of Absa.

WesBank has devised payment-relief plans to assist customers affected by Covid -19. The type of relief depends on the type of product each customer holds. Interest and fees will continue to accumulate on outstanding balances, but no fees will be charged for relief granted.

Customers who have been affected can get in contact with WesBank to make the necessary arrangements, says the bank.

Nedbank’s MFC vehicle finance wing is supporting its clients with several options based on individual circumstances, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

“We have encouraged clients to contact us to discuss their individual circumstances, and our debt-relief options include tailored payment arrangement options suited to the client’s household expenses during this time, irrespective of the client’s standing with the bank,” said MFC business support manager Jana Coetzer.

These could include temporarily allowing clients to repay a reduced amount over a limited time, payment holidays or restructuring current monthly repayment schedules, which includes a review of the interest rate charged.

There is insurance premium relief to be had, too, with clients able to pause the accident portion of their cover while their cars aren’t being driven during the lockdown.

Naked Insurance offers CoverPause, which via a smartphone app allows customers to pause the accident portion of their cover and downgrade to stationary cover on the days that they’re not driving.

“Naked clients can usually save up to 50% on their premium and still be covered for theft, fire, nature or anything else that can happen to their car while it is parked,” says a spokesperson.

Outsurance advises that its clients may similarly reduce their cover for a temporary period. It has also made its OUTbonus available to be used in lieu of a premium to clients who miss a premium, if they’re within a six-month period of their OUTbonus payment.

As further relief it will reduce excess payments for those clients who have a claim between April and June 2020.

Motoring events cancelled or postponed 

After the cancellation of March’s Geneva Motor Show, auto shows in Beijing and New York scheduled for April have been postponed, but Detroit’s annual auto show is still planned to take place in June.

With a number of Formula One and MotoGP races already cancelled or suspended, the latest casualties of the pandemic are the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK and the Indy 500 in the US.

The annual Goodwood motoring event, scheduled for July 9-12, has been postponed to an as-yet-unnamed date. The Indianapolis 500, the biggest motorsport event in the US, has been moved from May 24 to August 23.

The F1 season start has been moved to late May after the cancellation of last month’s Australian Grand Prix, and races in Bahrain, China and Vietnam have all been postponed. The jewel in F1’s crown, the Monaco Grand Prix, which was scheduled for May 24, has been cancelled.

New F1 rules that were to come into play in 2021 have been postponed to 2022.

Formula E, the World Endurance Championship, and MotoGP have also postponed or cancelled races, while the Isle of Man TT has been cancelled.

The Le Mans 24 Hours, originally scheduled for June 13-14, has been postponed to September 19-20.