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Coronavirus: Volkswagen boots up Europe's largest car plant after shutdown

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Workers wear face masks while working on the car assembly line as automobile production resumes at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg during the coronavirus crisis. (Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)

Car giant Volkswagen (VOW3.DE) is bringing its manufacturing plants back online on Monday, after being shut down since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In Wolfsburg, the site of VW’s biggest factory, some 8,000 workers will return on Monday. VW’s board member for production Andreas Tostman told Reuters that production capacity in Wolfsburg will be at around 10-to-15% to begin with and ramp up to 40% of pre-pandemic levels from next week.

“The gradual resumption of production is an important sign for the workforce, the trade, the suppliers and the economy as a whole,” said VW’s passenger car brand COO Ralf Brandstätter.

Workers are returning under strict new hygiene measures that include regular disinfecting of tools and surfaces, taking their own temperatures, and changing into work clothes at home to avoid crowded changing rooms. They will also need to maintain the 1.5-metre social distancing rule that remains in place across Germany.

Germany began to ease its strict coronavirus lockdown last week, with small shops of up to 800 square metres allowed to re-open. Car dealerships are also allowed to reopen. Some school classes will begin as of 4 May, but social distancing measures in public remain in place.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: New car registrations in EU plunge by 55% in March

All of the country’s 16 states have made it mandatory to wear face masks on public transport, and most of them have made mask-wearing compulsory in shops too.

The Volkswagen Group said on 17 April that sales for the first quarter had shrunk by 23% from the same time period last year, to two million vehicles.

The world’s biggest carmaker by sales saw its sales drop by over 37% in the month of March, as demand dried up and plants and dealerships were shuttered as part of coronavirus lockdowns.

VW also plans to restart its plants in Spain, Portugal, Russia, and South Africa this week, and its US plant in Chattanooga from next week, under the same strict hygiene rules.

Volkswagen-owned Audi reopened its engine plant in Hungary last week, with reduced shifts, and will also gradually begin car production at the site this week.

READ MORE: Volkswagen posts Q1 sales slump, ditches 2020 forecast

A number of other carmakers are also rebooting production again. Hyundai (HYMTF) has re-opened its Nosovice plant in the Czech Republic, while French carmaker Renault (RNO.PA) has begun production in Portugal again. Volvo (VOLV-B.ST) also reopened its main plant in Torslanda, Sweden last week.