German auto chiefs hold crisis call with Merkel

Angela Merkel visits the Volkswagen booth at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany, 12 September 2019. [Photo: EPA-EFE/SASCHA STEINBACH]

The bosses of BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen held a crisis call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday (1 April) to discuss how to get production restarted, according to Handelsblatt.

Carmakers have halted production at some sites as governments around the world have imposed lockdowns on their populations in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

VW Chief Executive Herbert Diess last week said the carmaker might have to cut jobs if the pandemic is not brought under control as it is still spending about €2 billion a week.

Handelsblatt cited participants in the call as saying carmakers were particularly concerned about the supply chain.

A Volkswagen source told Reuters the carmakers discussed the situation in the industry and how production could be started up again after the coronavirus crisis. There was agreement that an EU-wide approach to re-starting production was needed, the source said.

“It doesn’t help if one country forges ahead and then everything in Italy or Spain is still at a standstill,” the source said, adding that such a scenario would result in gaps in the supply chain.

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The VW source said in the talks there had been agreement that a working group, including the government, industry and the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, should be set up to develop standards for protecting employees when production is restarted, such as protective clothing, masks, distancing workers and frequent cleaning of sanitary facilities.

The source said the carmakers also discussed the situation facing car suppliers and that while big original equipment manufacturers were well provided for in terms of liquidity, that was not the case for many suppliers.

A source at Daimler said Merkel, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz and Joerg Hofmann, head of the IG Metall trade union, had all taken part in the meeting with Daimler CEO Ola Kaellenius, BMW boss Oliver Zipse and VW CEO Diess.

A survey published on Wednesday showed Germany’s export-dependent manufacturing sector saw the steepest decrease in output in almost 11 years in March, as the coronavirus pandemic forced plant closures in Europe’s biggest economy.

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