Newsflash: 275 pk sterke Hyundai Kona N debuteert in oktober

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+++ CHINA ’s auto industry has gone from 0 to 100 in its post-pandemic campaign drive, with manufacturers and dealers quick to woo back lockdown-weary consumers through campaigns as unusual as a makeup-promoting personality touting car leasing. Social media celebrity Lipstick King urged millions of fans on a live-streamed shopping show to sign up to a lease deal for General Motors’s Cadillac CT4 sedan. “This color has the sense of ‘I’m in charge’ independence”, he said, displaying a scale model of a chocolate-colored car. The plug is just one part of an eruption of promotional campaigns featuring steep discounts, cold-calling and gimmicks, from an industry obliterated by government restrictions on movement imposed in January to curb the spread of a virus which in China has infected 81.000 people and caused 3.300 deaths. The economy shrank 21 % in January-February with sales in the world’s biggest vehicle market last month plunging 79 %. Retail sales of passenger cars dropped 45 % in the first 3 weeks of March and the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers does not expect demand to normalize until the third quarter. With authorities gradually easing restrictions, automakers and dealers have started the engines on their promotional machinery to undo what consulting firm IHS Markit described as an “unprecedented and almost instant stalling of demand”. Tesla has launched testdrive and delivery services involving no staff contact, while Geely is delivering disinfected cars and dropping off keys with drones. The EV unit of the Guangzhou Automobile Group is even testing a system to perfume its Aion LX with the aroma of traditional Chinese medicine. SAIC-GM-Wuling (a venture between SAIC Motor, General Motors and a local partner) on February 25 started offering up to 11.000 yuan off purchases of its Wuling and Baojun brand vehicles, until the total discounts given reach 1 billion yuan ($141.69 million). Buyers also get medical masks. Seeing the promotion, restaurateur Wang Zhiyuan, 37, visited an SGMW dealership in Beijing earlier this month and received a 2.000 yuan discount on a Wuling Hongguang commercial minivan. Family sauna equipment supplier Mo Xiufeng, 40, was at the same dealership viewing the same vehicle to make a purchase he had been chewing over since before the lockdown. “I haven’t been able to come in the meantime because, fearing the virus, I didn’t want to leave my home”, he said. The dealership sold just 20 vehicles in February. It targets March sales of 100, versus an average of 500 before the virus. Due to the campaign, SGMW’s nationwide is a picture of even quicker recovery. A spokeswoman said March registered at least 5 days of sales surpassing 5.000 vehicles, with one day reaching 6.000, exceeding last year’s daily average. At the beginning of February, sales were around 200. Still, industry bodies have called for government help including purchase tax cuts on small vehicles, support for sales in rural areas and eased emission rules. The China Automobile Dealers Association has lobbied for loans to dealerships and temporary liquidity support such as credit lines. Local authorities in cities that rely heavily on vehicle manufacturing, such as Guangzhou in the south and Ningbo in the east, have also started to offer purchase incentives. Visits to showrooms by a reporter and telephone interviews with 50 dealerships across China indicate the campaigns are indeed bringing shoppers back. A Beijing dealership for a joint venture between Dongfeng Motor Group and Honda, however, has a problem beyond footfall that is likely to leave March sales in “single digits” versus the usual 100. “The problem now is we don’t have enough cars in inventory”, the sales manager told. Dongfeng Honda is based in the city of Wuhan where the virus was first reported at the end of last year, and where business activity has been restricted for 2 months. A Honda spokesman said production at the venture was gradually increasing. “The manufacturer said new cars would not arrive until mid-April”, the sales manager said, standing in a deserted showroom. +++ 

+++ BMW, Ford and Toyota were downgraded by Moody’s Investors Service and their major European, U.S. and Japanese competitors were put under review for possible cuts as the coronavirus pandemic raises risks for automakers worldwide. BMW, the European automaker with the best CREDIT profile, was dropped one level to A2, while Ford’s rating fell to Ba2, another rung into junk. Moody’s put General Motors under review along with Daimler, Jaguar Land Rover, PSA Group, Renault, Volkswagen, Volvo Cars and McLaren Holdings. In Japan, Toyota, Nissan and Honda were downgraded. The rapid spread of the outbreak, a deteriorating economic outlook, falling oil prices and asset price declines are “creating a severe and extensive credit shock”, Moody’s said in a statement. “The combined credit effects of these developments are unprecedented”. Automakers and their parts suppliers have halted factories on both sides of the Atlantic amid government measures to isolate populations and restrict travel. The wave of work stoppages occurred as the viral epicenter moved to Europe from China and intensified in the U.S., halting sales and rippling through supply chains. Demand will drop “meaningfully” over the coming months, especially in Europe and North America, Moody’s said. It anticipates global demand will shrink about 14 % in 2020 and could slump by roughly a third in the second quarter. Japanese automakers are especially vulnerable because of the pandemic exacerbating “pronounced cyclical downturns and changing consumer demand”, Moody’s said, leaving them “vulnerable to shifts in market sentiment in these unprecedented operating conditions”. Toyota, which had the strongest credit profile among Japan’s auto companies, was cut to A1 from Aa3, while Honda was downgraded to A3 from A2. Nissan, which has seen decade-low profits and management turmoil since the November 2018 arrest of former chairman Carlos Ghosn, was already the lowest in terms of credit ratings out of Japan’s top 3 carmakers. Moody’s cut Nissan’s rating to Baa3 from Baa1. Moody’s for now assumes GM and Ford’s full-year shipments will drop by as much as 18 %, though it warned “risk to the downside is considerable”. S&P Global Ratings still ranks Ford one step above junk. The firm also put GM’s rating on watch for negative action. “Automaker credit rankings are increasingly under pressure, another negative catalyst for bondholders, and we suspect more downgrades loom globally, with Ford and Renault possibly becoming fallen angels”, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Joel Levington said in a note. While GM probably can avoid a junk rating, falling into speculative grade causes problems for automakers’ lending units, Levington said by phone. Both GM and Ford get lots of cash from writing auto loans, and lower-rated debt makes borrowing more expensive. “It’s not the end of the world if one of these companies falls into high-yield”, he said. “But both Ford and GM make a lot of money from financing and their margins would go down”. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire this week pointed to the country’s auto and aeronautics industries as needing government support. The state has holdings in Renault and PSA. Renault chairman Jean-Dominique Senard has dismissed a re-nationalization of the carmaker but he told that the automaker may ask for government guarantees. Volkswagen brand’s global sales chief Jürgen Stackmann told that he expects a “normalization” of the situation on the German manufacturer’s home turf in the summer. The coronavirus will not disappear entirely by then, but society and the economy cannot cope with a shutdown that lasts for longer, he said. The outlier in Moody’s latest report was Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, placed under review “with uncertain direction”. The Italian-American manufacturer faces the same daunting situation as peers, but the planned merger with PSA might potentially result in a higher rating of the combined group than Fiat Chrysler’s current standalone rating, it said. BMW’s downgrade was driven by its already weak standing within the A1 ratings category, the agency said. The Munich-based carmaker last week warned that both profit and sales would fall significantly this year as the pandemic disrupts production and supplies. The company has idled its European plants, as well as its largest plant in the U.S. in South Carolina, for more than 2 weeks. +++ 

+++ DAIMLER is in talks with banks over arranging a new credit facility of at least €10 billion to help it navigate the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, people familiar with the matter told. Daimler is seeking a credit line of €10 billion to €15 billion and an announcement on the final amount could come as early as next week, said the people, who asked not to be identified because deliberations are private. Talks with potential lenders are ongoing and the exact timing and structure of the deal could still change, they said. The move is part of a range of measures to shore up the financial muscle of the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars and trucks during the coronavirus crisis, said the people. Daimler declined to comment. It had signed an €11 billion credit line 2 years ago with a group of international banks. This facility offered funding until 2025. The new credit facility would come on top of the existing one. Global automakers face an unprecedented challenge after the pandemic crippled demand from China to Europe and the United States. Governments have imposed restrictions on citizens, businesses and transportation to fight the outbreak. Last week, Daimler and other European manufacturers were forced to halt output at their factories in the region and have since expanded closures to sites in North America. Other industrial giants are also taking steps to boost liquidity. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles signed a new €3.5 billion credit facility with 2 banks. Daimler said it will move to short-time work at its domestic operations. Under German rules the state pays part of the reduced salary for employees. Avoiding mass layoffs helped German manufacturers ramp up production after the financial crisis a decade ago. +++

+++ The president of the United States, Donald Trump, invoked emergency powers to require GENERAL MOTORS to build much needed ventilators for coronavirus patients after he accused the largest U.S. automaker of “wasting time” during negotiations. Trump, who has been on the defensive for not moving faster to compel the production of medical equipment, for the first time invoked the Defense Production Act, saying GM was not moving quickly enough even though earlier the largest U.S. automaker announced it would begin building ventilators in the coming weeks. Asked about negotiations with GM over ventilators, Trump expressed anger with the company’s decision to close an assembly plant in politically important Ohio. He also criticized GM’s prior decisions to build plants outside the United States. “I didn’t go into it with a favorable view”, Trump told a news conference of the GM talks. White House adviser Peter Navarro said the administration ran into “roadblocks” with GM this week. GM said in a statement in response to Trump that it has been working with ventilator firm Ventec Life Systems and GM suppliers “around the clock for over a week to meet this urgent need” and said its commitment to Ventec’s ventilators “has never wavered”. The act grants the president power to expand industrial production of any key materials or products for national security and other reasons. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and other Democrats have urged him to invoke the act, but the president had been reluctant to do so until now. Democratic U.S. Senator Ed Markey said: “About time. Now, tell us every day: which companies will be making more of this equipment, how much is being made, and where the equipment is going”. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States topped 100.000, the highest in the world. The U.S. death toll topped 1.550. Trump also said countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Italy need ventilators and that if the excess volume is not needed, the United States can export them. Earlier, Trump lashed out at GM and Ford for moving too slowly just hours before GM said it would build medical equipment at an Indiana plant. Trump criticized the U.S. automakers and said he expected the United States would make or obtain 100.000 additional ventilators within the next 100 days. The attack on the automakers coincided with rising tension between Trump and the Democratic governors of New York and Michigan, who have criticized the administration’s response to the Covid-19 epidemic. Trump questioned in an interview whether New York state needed 30.000 ventilators to cope with rising numbers of coronavirus patients, as Cuomo had said. GM and Ford separately announced earlier this week they were working with medical equipment companies to help boost ventilator production. GM and its partner Ventec confirmed after Trump’s tweets that the No. 1 American automaker would deploy 1.000 workers to build ventilators at its Kokomo, Indiana, parts plant and ship as soon as next month. It was aiming to build more than 10.000 per month with the ability to go higher. Suppliers in the effort were told the target was 200.000 ventilators. But early Friday, before GM issued its release, Trump attacked the automaker and chief executive Mary Barra on Twitter, reviving his grievance with Barra for closing and selling a car factory in Ohio, a state critical to the president’s re-election campaign. “General Motors must immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and start making ventilators now!”. Ford get going on ventilators, fast!”, Trump wrote. “They said they were going to give us 40.000 much needed ventilators, ‘very quickly’ ”, Trump said on Twitter of GM and Ventec’s effort. “Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar”. Trump’s comments about GM and Ford came after a newsarticle suggested the White House had backed away from announcing a major ventilator deal with GM and Ventec because the price tag was too high. That drew criticism from Democrats. Following Trump’s tweets, Ford said it was moving as fast as it could to gear up its ventilator manufacturing efforts and was in “active conversations” with the Trump administration seeking approvals. Ford said it has “teams working flat-out with GE Healthcare to boost production of simplified ventilators”. Other automakers have said they are working to produce ventilators, masks and other medical equipment. Toyota said it was “finalizing agreements to begin working with at least 2 companies that produce ventilators and respirators to help increase their capacity”. New York City mayor Bill be Blasio said that Tesla had agreed to donate hundreds of ventilators to hospital intensive care units in New York City and the state of New York. Tesla chief executive Elon Musk in response said the electric carmaker was helping locate and deliver existing ventilators. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ferrari previously said they were exploring making ventilators in Italy. +++

 

+++ HYUNDAI said that it has completed the establishment of a 50:50 joint venture with the US software developer of autonomous vehicles Aptiv. The headquarters of the joint venture will be set up in Boston, Massachusetts, and it will run research centers in both the US and Asia, the company said, adding that the company mission will be announced in the near future. In September last year, Hyundai clinched a deal with Aptiv, formerly known as Delphi, for a $4 billion joint venture to develop autonomous technology. The 2 firms agreed to test-operate autonomous driving vehicles in 2022 and start mass-producing them from 2024. The Korean automaker said in a statement it expects to consolidate Hyundai’s position as “a pathfinder in the field of autonomous technology”, breaking from its previous position as a fast follower. The company said that the group’s 3 subsidiaries (Hyundai, Kia and Hyundai Mobis) will inject a combined $1.6 billion in cash and $400 million worth of engineering services, research and development capability and intellectual property rights. +++

 

+++ KIA has tapped Ho-sung Song, the current head of its global operations division, as its new president to lead the South Korean automaker’s new mid-term plan. Song, 57, takes the reigns April 1 from Han-woo Park, who will stay on in an advisory role, Kia said. Park, 62, currently holds the title of president and CEO. A Kia spokeswoman said the board of directors would decide later about a possible CEO appointment. Song’s extensive overseas experience gives him a good foundation for spearheading the next phase of Kia’s business plan, Kia said. Before leading the company’s global operations division as executive vice president, Song was president of Kia Motors Europe, head of the company’s export planning group and president of Kia Motors France. Kia said Song’s first task will be leading the Plan S business plan unveiled in January. Plan S targets a shift from internal combustion technology toward electric and autonomous vehicles through a $25 billion investment blitz. Kia will offer 11 electric vehicles by 2025, targeting a 6.6 % global share of the EV market. It also aims to get 25 % of its global sales from ecofriendly vehicles by 2025. As part of the rollout, a dedicated EV arrives in 2021. +++ 

+++ The Hyundai KONA is set to receive the brand’s hot N treatment. Now, the project has gathered more pace and a production version nears closer. The upcoming Volkswagen T-Roc R rival will get larger alloy wheels, while the ride height will be dropped. It will also feature a large roof spoiler and a pair of huge oval tailpipes. Albert Biermann, the man in charge of Hyundai’s N sub-brand, gave a strong hint at its likely engine: the 2.0-litre turbo petrol from the current i30 N. That means we can expect at least 250 hp from the Kona N, though the hottest ‘Performance’ variant makes 275 hp. Biermann told: “It has to be the i30 N powertrain, really. Of course, we can give Kona different specifications on suspension and steering, although there are some common components we can use in that area as well, because it’ll be frontwheel drive, like the i30 N. But we already know that it has to be that car’s engine and gearbox for the Kona N, yes”. The Kona N is likely to make its debut at the end of this year, at a similar time to the i20 N. Like the Kona, disguised prototypes of Hyundai’s Ford Fiesta ST rival have already been spotted testing at the Nurburgring. The recently-updated i30 range will soon gain revised versions of the N models, too. +++ 

+++ MAZDA has given its CX-5 another mild revision for the 2020 model year, including efficiency tweaks to the petrol variant. The SUV rival now benefits from cylinder-deactivation tech for the 165 hp Skyactiv-G petrol engine, although it’s added on versions with the manual gearbox only. The new system, which shuts down 2 cylinders under light throttle loads to reduce fuel consumption, is claimed to give an 8 % reduction in CO2 emissions when measured on the WLTP cycle. The Skyactiv-G unit is an older engine than the Skyactiv X unit found in the 3 and CX-30, so it doesn’t feature the spark-controlled compression-ignition technology. Other tweaks include a revised navigation display for the infotainment screen, intended to enable clearer operation, and extra sound insulation has been applied to improve cabin refinement. The CX-5 has already benefited from several updates since its launch in 2017. Last year, a round of chassis tweaks introduced new suspension components and anti-roll bars, plus Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control system to enhance high-speed stability. +++ 

+++ Jaguar Land Rover parent company TATA MOTORS , wants to separate its passenger car business from trucks and buses, seeking a partner as sales in India have slumped for a 16th consecutive month in February. By creating a separate subsidiary for its Passenger Vehicles (including EVs), Tata hopes to provide the unit with “differentiated focus”, helping it realize its full potential. “The recent outbreak of Covid-19 increases the challenges faced by the business”, said the company in a statement. “A move towards subsidiarization of the PV business is the first step in securing mutually beneficial strategic alliances that provide access to products, architectures, powertrains, new age technologies and capital”. The subsidiary shift will be implemented through a scheme of arrangement, tabled for approval to the Tata Motors board over the next few weeks. Tata expects the entire transfer process to take less than 12 months, which includes regulatory and statutory approval, as well as the approval of shareholders and creditors. According to Moody’s Investor Service, Tata Motors’ credit rating is under review for a downgrade, especially with customer demand being as low as it is thanks to the ongoing pandemic. Bringing on an investor could help the Indian brand revive sales. “It is something Tata should have done many years ago”, said Ashvin Chotai, managing director, Intelligence Automotive Asia. “I would have thought Tata would have more fundamental challenges to address in the current environment than to this reorganization”. As for Jaguar Land Rover, back in January, the British premium carmaker had to give up on plans to issue a U.S. dollar bond after investors demanded too high an interest rate to compensate for the risk posed by the coronavirus situation. +++ 

+++ TESLA plans to cut on-site staff at its Nevada battery plant by about 75 % due to the coronavirus pandemic, the local county manager said. The move comes after its battery partner Panasonic said it would scale down operations at the Nevada factory this week before closing it for 14 days. The factory produces electric motors and battery packs for Tesla’s Model 3. “Tesla has informed us that the Gigafactory in Storey County is reducing on-site staff by roughly 75 % in the coming days”, Austin Osborne said in a post on the county’s website. No further details were available, and it was not clear how many employees work in the factory. Panasonic has about 3.500 employees at the Nevada plant. Tesla said last week it would temporarily suspend production at its vehicle factory in San Francisco Bay Area from end of March 23, as well as at its New York solar roof tile factory. However, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company will reopen the New York plant “as soon as humanly possible” to manufacture ventilators for coronavirus patients. 2 employees of Tesla have tested positive for coronavirus but have been working from home for the past 2 weeks and had not been symptomatic at work, Tesla said in an email to employees on Thursday. It did not disclose which unit or at what location the employees work. +++ 

+++ TOYOTA is seeking a 1 trillion yen ($9 billion) line of credit from Sumitomo Mitsui Banking and MUFG Bank, people familiar with the matter said, as the automaker ensures it has ample funding if necessary with the coronavirus pandemic intensifying across the world. Although Japan’s biggest automaker has the strongest credit profile among the country’s car manufacturers, its cost of credit is going up. Moody’s Investors Service cut Toyota’s credit rating to A1 from Aa3, and put it under review for a further downgrade. The rating firm also downgraded the ratings of other global auto giants. “We continually evaluate our funding needs”, said Kensuke Ko, a spokesman for Toyota. “At this moment nothing has been decided regarding the report”. Toyota is planning to halt output at 7 production lines at 5 factories starting from April 3. The carmaker has also suspended operation at a site in India after the government asked residents to stay home. It has halted production in North America and countries such as France, the U.K., the Philippines and Brazil, as industries worldwide suspend manufacturing sites amid work and movement restrictions. The virus outbreak may shave 170 billion yen from the profits of Japan’s top five automakers, according to a report by Goldman Sachs Group earlier this month. +++ 

+++ The coronavirus outbreak will cut car output in the UNITED KINGDOM by more than 15 % this year and the drop could be even bigger if closed factories have to stay shut for months, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said, urging the government to do more. The sector, Britain’s biggest exporter of goods, employs more than 800.000 people with Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan building over half of the country’s cars at factories in central and northern England. The outbreak has closed plants and it remains unclear when they will be able to open as the government scrambles to limit the pandemic. Full-year output was already expected to dip slightly to 1.27 million this year but will now fall to 1.06 million, assuming Britain secures a zero-tariff deal with the EU due to kick in on January 1st, the SMMT said. “The impact could be far more severe if the crisis, and therefore shutdowns, were to last for months instead of weeks”, the SMMT said. “If we’re to keep this sector alive and in a position to help Britain get back on its feet, we urgently need funding to be released, additional measures to ease pressure on cashflow and clarity on how employment support measures will work”, CEO Mike Hawes said. Automakers hope to make up for some of the lost demand depending on how quickly they can resume operations. Output in the first 2 months of the year is down 1.5 %. Britain’s automakers have also been hit with Brexit uncertainty and, like the industry elsewhere, have had to rapidly adapt to falling diesel sales, electrification, stricter emissions rules and investment in autonomous technology. Last week, prime minister Boris Johnson called on companies to help fight the virus with automakers involved in a consortium to produce medical ventilators. “The entire industry stands ready to help the national effort, from production of essential medical equipment, to sustaining delivery of essential supplies, providing and maintaining emergency services vehicles and transporting key workers”, said Hawes. +++ 

+++ In the UNITED STATES , Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Honda and Toyota took steps to restart North American factories that have been closed to protect workers from the coronavirus. The plants would reopen in early or mid-April, restoring the largest source of cash for automakers that generally book revenue when they ship vehicles to dealerships. Auto companies, like other businesses, are trying to manage their way through the coronavirus crisis, which has forced factories to close amid employee concerns that they could catch the virus while working close to others at factory work stations. Ford said it wants to reopen 5 North American assembly plants, starting with one in Mexico April 6 and continuing with 4 in the U.S. on April 14. The move was immediately met with skepticism by the United Auto Workers union, which represents 56,000 Ford factory workers. “The UAW continues to review with great caution and concern decisions being made about restarting workplaces, especially at advanced dates”, union President Rory Gamble said in a statement. Honda wants to reopen U.S. and Canadian factories on April 7, a week later than originally planned, while Toyota plans to restart North American plants on April 20. Fiat Chrysler intends to reopen U.S. and Canadian factories April 14 depending on state restrictions and plant readiness. General Motors says it hasn’t decided yet when factories would restart. Most automakers said they would monitor the virus and adjust decisions if needed. The factory decisions contrast with Italy, which expanded a nationwide lockdown to include most heavy industry. Auto plants in Italy, which leads the world in virus deaths, already had been closed voluntarily. The automakers’ moves in the U.S. come as new auto sales are expected to fall dramatically for the month of March. Edmunds.com expects March sales to fall nearly 36% from a year earlier. Ford said it’s aiming to reopen its factory in Hermosillo, Mexico, followed by its Dearborn truck plant, Kentucky truck plant Ohio assembly plant and the Transit van line at the Kansas City plant. The company also wants to reopen some parts-making plants on the same day, including four in Michigan, which is among the states hardest hit by the virus. The automaker says it will introduce additional safety measures to protect workers, but said it would give details later. Ford wants to reopen 5 North American assembly plants in April that were closed due to the threat of coronavirus. All 3 Detroit automakers suspended production at U.S. factories a week ago under pressure from the United Auto Workers union, which had concerns about worker safety. The Ford decision comes as the number of people infected by the virus spikes in Michigan. The state reported at least 2.294 infections and that the number of deaths nearly doubled from 24 to 43. Two Detroit-area hospital systems said they are caring for more than 1.000 Covid-19 patients at 13 hospitals. At Beaumont Health and Henry Ford Health System, operating rooms were being converted into intensive care units and clinics had been turned into rooms for patients needing other medical care. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he is hoping the United States will be reopened by Easter as he weighs how to relax nationwide social-distancing guidelines to put some workers back on the job during the coronavirus outbreak. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist and senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins, said by April 14, experts will have a better idea what the trajectory is for new coronavirus cases and whether factories can be run with appropriate social distancing. It’s important, he said, to find was to operate factories safely. “I would say we have to think about what the path forward is going to be”, he said. The decisions on whether to reopen factories should be based on local virus transmissions and infections, he said, adding that the number of people infected is going to rise because of additional testing that is now being done. Cole Stevenson, a worker who installs steering wheels at Ford’s huge pickup truck plant in Dearborn, said a reopening three weeks into the future is probably long enough to protect workers. “If they’ve researched up enough on how long the virus lives on surfaces and things like that, and they’re doing their part to keep that at a minimum, I guess I’m not too inclined to worry”, he said. Stevenson said other workers may be more apprehensive about the virus, but he says he keeps his distance to guard against the coronavirus. The UAW’s Gamble, though, suggested that Ford keep worker safety at the top of its list before restarting operations. “The only guideline in a boardroom should be management asking themselves, ‘Would I send my family, my own son or daughter, into that plant and be 100% certain they are safe?’ ”, Gamble said. The Ford factories, which largely make highly profitable pickup trucks, commercial vans and big SUVs, are key to Ford’s financial health. The F-150 pickup made at the Dearborn truck plant is the topselling vehicle in America that’s responsible for much of the company’s profit. The Ford factories were to be closed until March 30. Combined, the Detroit automakers have about 150.000 unionized factory workers. 2 union workers from Fiat Chrysler plants in the Detroit area and Kokomo, Indiana, have died this week from complications due to the virus, but it’s not clear whether they got it at the factories or elsewhere. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in 2 to 3 weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The effort to reopen the plants comes as Amazon and other large warehouses continue operations, although some of the goods they’re distributing are considered essential. +++ 

+++ The VOLKSWAGEN Group may have to cut jobs if the coronavirus pandemic is not brought under control as the automaker is still spending about €2 billion a week, CEO Herbert Diess told. Volkswagen is not making any sales outside of China and is looking for ways to resume production elsewhere that wouldn’t endanger its staff, Diess told. “We are not making sales or revenues outside of China”, Diess said, adding that VW still had to cover a high level of fixed costs of “around €2 billion a week”. “We need to rethink production. We do not yet have the  discipline that we had in China at our German locations”, he said. “Only if we, like China, Korea or other Asian states, get the problem under control then we have a chance to come through the crisis without job losses. It requires a very sharp intervention”, Diess said. Demand in China is picking up again but production is only at half the level prior to the crisis, he said. The automaker working on ways to resume manufacturing with workers maintaining safe distances from one another, including by stepping up hygiene and disinfecting, Diess said. Volkswagen employs 671,000 people and has 124 factories around the world of which 72 are in Europe, with 28 in Germany alone. It suspended production in Europe earlier this month because of the pandemic. The Volkswagen Group owns the Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Seat and Skoda brands. The group sold 10.96 million vehicles last year. It also produces Ducati motorbikes as well as MAN and Scania trucks. VW’s chief financial officer, Frank Witter, called on the European Central Bank (ECB) to accelerate purchases of short-term debt. He said the ECB should send “clear signals” and purchase the short-term debt, which often matures in as little as 6 or 9 months, “as soon as possible”. The ECB said last week it would prop up markets, including through the purchase of commercial paper, as part of a €750 billion plan to boost asset purchases to contain the financial fallout from coronavirus. It remains unclear whether the ECB has started buying commercial paper. Volkswagen is one of Europe’s most regular corporate issuers of commercial paper. “There’s a lot of pressure on the incoming money flow”, said Witter. “We have different diversified funding sources available but not all of them are as liquid as they were”. VW has the capacity to issue up to €15 billon of commercial paper under its main funding program, with another €5 billion earmarked for short-term debt in Belgium. The company’s ringfenced financial services division has a separate commercial paper program with a €2.5 billion limit. Witter said Volkswagen, which has yet to tap bank credit lines worth in excess of €20 billion, considered those facilities only as a back-up for when capital markets are shut. In a separate interview, Witter said Volkswagen did not see the need to tap state aid to weather the crisis. Passenger car sales were down 40 % in March, Witter told, adding that the company was reviewing whether its annual meeting could take place on May 7. For now, Volkswagen is sticking to its forecast of paying a dividend but it was looking closely at all investment and spending needs, Witter told. +++

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