Toyota will reopen and slowly ramp up vehicle production in the U.S. and Canada beginning May 4, the Texas-based subsidiary announced Thursday.
The automaker said it’s spent time making sure employees feel safe returning to work and are eager to get back.
“We’re going to make ongoing adjustments to make sure that our plans, processes and protocols are working and that they’re working for team members,” said Toyota chief administrative officer Chris Reynolds. “All with the ultimate goal of making sure that our team members are operating in a safe environment and return home safely as well.”
After five weeks of idled production, the company sees other manufacturers like Boeing and Mercedes starting back up.
“We want to be able to have a steady supply of products based on anticipated demand from consumers,” Reynolds said.
The Japanese auto manufacturer, which moved its North American headquarters to Plano in 2017, anticipates production may reach higher volumes at facilities like the massive assembly plant in San Antonio that makes pickups and SUVs.
The company does not anticipate production levels to reach pre-virus volumes, however.
“There’s no question that production will be slower, but that’s a different question from whether we’ll be able to meet demand at any given time,” Reynolds said.
Toyota saw North American sales plummet more than 30% in March as pandemic mitigation measures were enacted across the U.S. and neighboring countries. Sales may recover in May as restrictions on dealerships loosen and automakers offer big discounts, according to J.D. Power.
Toyota has reconfigured its plants to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus, according to the company.
Reynolds said the company has been communicating with its workers across the country, sharing images of changes to plant layouts “in order to give them confidence that they can actually come in and work safely.” Toyota employs roughly 23,000 people at its U.S. facilities.
The company said it’s also been engaging employees with at-home fitness exercises to keep them prepared for when they return to work.
Work groups within facilities will be limited to 10 or less, fan use will be limited to prevent the spread of germs through the air, plants will be sanitized and the company will check employees’ temperature upon arrival at work.
Toyota said it bought masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and face shields, and has taken additional precautions in areas where social distancing is difficult, including installing plexiglass dividers between bathroom sinks.
It’s also restricting elevator use and staggering workers’ entry and exit times to minimize crowding.
“We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to minimize the spread of the virus,” Reynolds said.
The company doesn’t plan to test employees for the coronavirus because it doesn’t want to interfere with health care professionals already treating Americans who’ve contracted the virus.
Two dozen Toyota North America employees have tested positive for the coronavirus and 13 have fully recovered, according to the company. No employees have died from COVID-19.
The resumption of manufacturing means “there’s a really good chance we’re going to have a positive (virus) case again,” said Sean Suggs, president of Toyota’s Mississippi plant where Corollas are made.