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VW's Chattanooga, Tenn., factory plans to resume production May 4. (Photo: VW)

The auto industry is shuddering back to life, after a six-week coronavirus-induced shutdown.

Why it matters: Vehicle manufacturing represents 3% of the nation's gross domestic product and employs 649,000 hourly U.S. workers. Resuming production will not only be a shot in the arm for the American economy, it could also set the tone for how other businesses reopen under strict health safety precautions.

The big picture: It's easy to quickly shut down production in the face of a global pandemic. Restarting factories is more difficult, requiring a carefully orchestrated process that involves hundreds of global suppliers, perfectly timed logistics and hundreds of thousands of employees.

  • Now add the further complication of social distancing to protect workers from illness at all companies throughout the supply chain.
  • "It's an incredible synchronization problem," said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of Industry, Labor & Economics at the Center for Automotive Research. "It means getting enough people to show up and be healthy, getting enough parts to show up when you need them and having enough customers ready to buy."

What's happening: Most carmakers, including FiatChrysler, Toyota and Honda, say they are targeting a gradual ramp-up of production starting on May 4.

  • General Motors and Ford appear to be on a similar schedule, although they have yet to announce an official restart date.
  • Volkswagen of America's plans, announced on Wednesday, are a good example of how automakers will proceed.
  • VW said its Chattanooga, Tenn., plant will resume operations in phases, starting May 4, and gradually increase production over several weeks while progressively lifting restrictions.
  • Workers will have their temperatures checked and receive masks, gloves and other protective gear while keeping six-foot distances from others.

Yes, but: Parts suppliers generally need a week or two head start to ensure vehicle manufacturers have the components they need to build cars.

  • But stay-at-home orders in heavy manufacturing states like Michigan and Ohio remain in effect for now, meaning that typical buffer may not be possible.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Technology

Twitter sues Texas AG Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at February's Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Twitter on Monday filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), saying that his office launched an investigation into the social media giant because it banned former President Trump from its platform.

Driving the news: Twitter is seeking to halt an investigation launched by Paxton into moderation practices by Big Tech firms including Twitter for what he called "the seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President," days after they banned him following the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Senate retirements could attract GOP troublemakers

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Roy Blunt's retirement highlights the twin challenge facing Senate Republicans: finding good replacement candidates and avoiding a pathway for potential troublemakers to join their ranks.

Why it matters: While the midterm elections are supposed to be a boon to the party out of power, the recent run of retirements — which may not be over — is upending that assumption for the GOP in 2022.

Congressional diversity growing - slowly

Data: Brookings Institution and Pew Research Center; Note: No data on Native Americans in Congress before the 107th Congress; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The number of non-white senators and House members in the 535-seat Congress has been growing steadily in the past several decades — but representation largely lags behind the overall U.S. population.

Why it matters: Non-whites find it harder to break into the power system because of structural barriers such as the need to quit a job to campaign full time for office, as Axios reported in its latest Hard Truths Deep Dive.