• Major automakers restrict staff’s China travel fearing coronavirus
  • Honda Motor and PSA Group going ahead with withdrawing employees
  • Automobile production likely to fall if New Year stoppage extended

China’s automobile production is set to fall sharply as automakers are withdrawing staff fearing a coronavirus epidemic after its emergence in Wuhan where auto majors have production facilities, media reports say.

Some global automakers have already restricted or banned travel to China due to the fast-spreading disease that has claimed more than 100 lives and afflicted thousands worldwide, a CNBC website report said.

Though factories are now shut for Lunar New Year, resumption of normal operations is now in doubt, according to industry sources. The automakers may keep the plants shut for long, CNBC cites the views of people familiar with the matter.

Automakers with major facilities in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, include GM, Honda, and Nissan. Nissan also has a facility under construction with Wuhan-based Dongfeng.

Majority of employees

Honda Motor and PSA Group are extracting their employees in and around Wuhan. A Honda spokesman Monday confirmed reports that 30 “associates and their families” were sent home to Japan from Wuhan.

CNBC TV reported that the PSA Group stated that a decision to repatriate its employees working in Wuhan would be taken in accordance with the views of the “French authorities in complete cooperation with Chinese authorities.” The company is expected to start flying French citizens home from Wuhan by the middle of this week, CNBC cited company spokesman Pierre-Olivier Salmon as saying.

Japanese automaker Nissan has plans to withdraw a majority of its employees and their family members from the Wuhan area, a person familiar with the company’s plans told CNBC. “We take the health and safety of our employees and their families seriously,” a Nissan spokesman said in an emailed statement. “We are carefully evaluating the epidemic situation in Wuhan and the country and keep our employees informed and provided with all necessary support and precautionary tools.”

Monitoring the situation

Toyota Motor has banned employees’ travel to China “until further notice,” according to company spokesman Eric Booth. He said the automaker “will continue to monitor the situation.” Toyota does not operate any plants in China.

Other carmakers may evacuate employees from the U.S., European and other international stations posted in China, though the exact number was not immediately available.

Shanghai authorities have stopped companies from resuming operations before Feb. 9, a Reuter report said. Electric-car maker Tesla, which just opened its first factory in China, near Shanghai, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, according to the report.

A spokesperson of General Motors, which is the largest U.S. automaker in China, said the company is “taking it one day at a time.” It has not yet decided whether it will extend the work stoppage in China beyond Feb. 2, particularly at an assembly plant in Wuhan that employs about 6,000 workers, he said. “Out of an abundance of caution, GM has placed a temporary restriction on travel to China,” the company said.

The spread of the coronavirus
The spread of the coronavirus AFP / John SAEKI