The auto sector is desperate to crank up production and get customers back into dealerships after an unprecedented slump in sales. Passenger-car sales fell 78.5% last month on year, according to the China Passenger Car Association; and while 70% of auto companies had restarted by the end of February, they were operating at 20% of production capacity.
Among the hardest hit is Dongfeng Motor Corp., one of China’s biggest state-run auto makers, which is based in Wuhan. It operates several of its own factories in the area as well as local joint-venture plants with Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co., Peugeot SA and Renault SA. General Motors Co. also operates a plant in Wuhan with its partner, Shanghai-based SAIC Motor Corp.
All three of Honda’s joint-venture car plants with Dongfeng are located in Wuhan. Honda said Wednesday that it had started to allow some employees to return to its plants in Wuhan, and that it had begun small-scale production while conducting equipment checks.
An engineer who works for Dongfeng Honda Automobile Co. in Wuhan, where he has been under lockdown in his apartment since Jan. 23, said local authorities gave Dongfeng Honda and some of its key suppliers permission to restart production Monday . But other obstacles remain, he said—thousands of workers remain stranded outside Hubei, and with Wuhan’s mass-transit networks still closed, many workers who are in the city can’t travel to the factories, he said.
Moreover, people are prohibited from traveling between city districts unless they have special permits, making it impossible for workers who live in a different district from their factory to clock in. The authorities haven’t said when the restrictions might be lifted.
Starting Sunday, Dongfeng Honda will provide special buses to get enough workers to start the plant, the engineer said, adding the company has obtained special permission.
A spokeswoman for Nissan said the company was planning to restart production this week at its factory in Xiangyang in Hubei and at a second plant in Zhengzhou in Henan province.
A Renault spokesperson said the company is tentatively aiming to resume production on Monday , subject to approval from the authorities and from its partner, Dongfeng.
A Dongfeng representative said the company is preparing to restart its production lines but the timing remained unclear, and that it would abide by local regulations.
General Motors and Peugeot didn’t respond to questions about when their Hubei factories would resume operations.