Ford and Fiat Chrysler return to full production Monday

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Detroit's automakers are on pace to resume full, pre-coronavirus production schedules, five weeks since a historic, industrywide restart of North American operations.

Ford Motor Co. will resume its full production schedule in the U.S. on Monday, two weeks sooner than it had planned, the automaker confirmed Friday. And when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV restarts its second shift at Belvidere Assembly in Illinois on Monday, it too will be back to regular production.

General Motors Co. said its truck and SUV plants are firing on all cylinders again, with most car and crossover plants operating at pre-pandemic levels.

The ramp-ups come five weeks after the U.S. auto industry restarted North American operations after being shut down for eight weeks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Plants came back online on reduced schedules, in part to allow workers to get used to new health and safety protocols that include measures such as daily temperature checks and required face coverings.

The return to normal operating patterns signifies strong consumer demand, that automakers have been able to work through snarls in the supply chain, and that health protocols are working, said Kristen Dziczek, vice president of industry, labor & economics at the Center for Automotive Research. 

Ford moves to full production Monday, two weeks sooner than planned

Detroit's automakers are working to make up for lost time and replenish dealer inventories to meet demand that has been higher than initially predicted at the onset of the pandemic. The resumption of full production is a sign that “demand has remained relatively strong and that there’s a need for the products in the marketplace," Dziczek said. 

The auto industry on average had a 60.9-day supply of inventory in May, down from 64.2 days in May 2019 and from 120.7 days in April, according to the latest data from Inc., an auto information website.

There have been some noted supply-chain issues along the way, including one that prevented GM from adding additional shifts at its profit-rich truck plants. That issue was worked through and GM added the shifts at the start of June. But these moves signify that automakers “been able to overcome whatever hurdles, and there are many in their whole production system, to get all the parts that they need from all the various places they need them from to build these very complex assemblies," said Dziczek.

While there have been some coronavirus cases in auto plants, the virus has not been widespread. Dziczek noted that the protocols the automakers are using have worked as intended, identifying positive cases and preventing employees who should not be in contact with others from working in the plants: “They are continuing to refine and evolve those protocols as they come up against hurdles or as the science changes to try to keep workers as safe as they possibly can be.”

Ford at first was mum on when it expected to get back to its normal production schedule; then, last week, the automaker signaled it expected to return all U.S. plants to pre-coronavirus capacity by July 6. 

Those plans have now been bumped up, thanks to the readiness of Ford's workforce and supply base, Kelli Felker, Ford's global manufacturing and communication managers, told The Detroit News: "We are pleased to be able to return to our normal operating pattern in the U.S. on Monday — which is sooner than expected — because our workforce and suppliers are able to support. The safety of our workforce continues to be our top priority."

She noted that U.S. production accounts for the "vast majority" of the Dearborn automaker's global operations. Ford, as well as other automakers, resumed production in other markets, including China and Europe, prior to North America.

The ramp-up comes as Ford is gearing up for key product launches that are upcoming, including the redesigned F-150 pickup truck — Ford's best-selling vehicle — that the automaker will reveal next week and plans to bring to showrooms later this year.

Fiat Chrysler builds the Jeep Cherokee at Belvidere Assembly. With the resumption of the second shift there, "all of our North American assembly plants will be back at their pre-COVID operating patterns next week," Fiat Chrysler spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said.

"All of GM’s U.S. truck and SUV plants are back on three shifts and nearly all of our car and crossover plants are working the same number of shifts as they did pre-pandemic," GM spokesman Dan Flores said. "More than 90% of our hourly team is back to work. As a course of normal business, we will continue to monitor the marketplace and adjust production as needed."

Twitter: @JGrzelewski

Staff reporter Kalea Hall contributed.