GM tentatively plans Wednesday restart at Mexican pickup plant, report says

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MEXICO CITY — General Motors is tentatively planning to restart operations at its auto assembly plant in the Mexican city of Silao on Wednesday, according to a message to workers seen by Reuters on Sunday, as the car industry prepares to exit the coronavirus lockdown.

The reopening of the plant would be a positive signal for the auto sector in North America, whose supply lines are highly interconnected between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

The plant in the central state of Guanajuato has been idled for weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak. Workers had previously been told to plan to return to their jobs on May 18.

A GM spokeswoman said the company could not confirm when it would restart operations at any of its facilities in Mexico because it is awaiting more guidance from the government.

Additionally, the president of GM’s Mexican unit advised suppliers to prepare to resume operations after the Mexican government said the automotive industry could exit the coronavirus lockdown before June 1 with adequate safety measures.

“We are now beginning a new phase given the Mexican government’s official announcement earlier this week to consider the transportation manufacturing industry as essential for the country’s economy,” Francisco Garza, president of General Motors de Mexico, wrote in an email to suppliers dated on Friday that was viewed by Reuters.

Noting the Mexican government is due to publish final safety rules on Monday, Garza added: “Once those final guidelines are known, we will be in a position to move swiftly to comply.”

In a document published overnight, Mexico’s government said companies in the automotive, mining and construction sectors will have to submit their health protocols for exiting the coronavirus lockdown to authorities, and will be told in 72 hours if they can resume operations.

Outlining plans to restart the economy, the government said the guidelines will lead to a gradual reopening that follows a so-called traffic lights system put in place by the government. 

GM’s message to plant workers came after the government on Friday clarified when the industry could begin easing restrictions imposed because of the health emergency.

On Wednesday, the government said automakers could start going back into production starting May 18. It then withdrew that advice and suggested the new start date would be June 1.

Finally it indicated the sector, which forms the backbone of Mexican manufacturing, could begin operating as soon as this week if companies had the required safety measures in place.

U.S. officials and its auto industry have pressed Mexico’s government to get its factories open again because American operations depend heavily on parts from south of the border.

However, some politicians are wary of opening too fast. Mexico registered its first case of coronavirus weeks after the United States and Canada and the toll of daily infections and deaths in the country reached new peaks over the past few days.

The Silao production facility, which makes highly profitable pickup trucks for GM, is one of the biggest automotive plants in Guanajuato, a major Mexican carmaking state. 

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Saurabh Shukla

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