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Mercedes-Benz reopened its U.S. plant this week in Alabama, becoming one of the first manufacturers to resume operations since the coronavirus pandemic halted auto production across the country last month.
Depending how the reopening goes, it could assist other automakers in efforts to reopen their domestic plants in the coming weeks and months. If successful, it could be a benchmark for the industry. If not, it may cause others to rethink their processes and timing.
Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, said it took “robust and best practice safety measures” to ensure that the reopening of the plant was safe for its 4,200 workers who produce the Mercedes-Benz GLE, GL and GLE Coupe SUVs.
New protocols to reduce the spread of the virus include the mandatory wearing of face masks, temperature checks at entry and separation of employees in break rooms, cafes and common areas.
“Our team members’ health and safety has top priority at Mercedes-Benz,” the company said in an emailed statement. “During our shutdown, we have monitored and learned from other Mercedes-Benz plants around the world as they returned to work.”
The automaker has increased sanitizing measures and continuing to allow employees who can to work from home to reduce traffic in the plant, located near Tuscaloosa.
A Daimler spokesman declined to comment on how many employees returned to work this week, how the company determined which workers would return and whether or not there has been any problem with absenteeism.
Only one of the plant’s three shifts of workers was initially called back Monday as the plant ramps up production and the safety measures are implemented.
In the coming weeks, Daimler said, it expects to “gradually bring in additional team members to begin running at full production volume.” The reopening came a week after the company resumed operations at a U.S. commercial vehicle plant.
The measures are similar to what other automakers have said they plan to do to reopen their facilities, most of which have been shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic since mid- to late March.
Daimler said it also obtained guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and benchmarked the best safety practices with other groups such as the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.
The windows at the corporate headquarters of Daimler AG in Untertürkheim are illuminated.
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“We will continue to monitor federal and state guidance and regulations throughout this ramp up period, and will make whatever changes as may become necessary to ensure our team members safety and to ensure the required production capacities of the highly demanded SUV models coming out of Alabama,” the company said.
Volkswagen, General Motors, Ford Motor and Fiat Chrysler have indefinitely extended their U.S. plant shutdowns. The Detroit automakers have been in discussions with the United Auto Workers union for weeks about reopening their plants.
Toyota Motor, Hyundai Motor and Honda Motor are among the automakers that plan to reopen U.S. factories in the next week or so. Nissan Motor, following several postponements, expects to restart production in mid-May.