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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 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

CNN fires Chris Cuomo

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN

CNN said Saturday evening it has fired one of its star anchors, Chris Cuomo, following new revelations from a legal review made by the company into Cuomo's involvement in the management of his brother's sexual harassment scandal.

Why it matters: Saturday's firing speaks to how much pressure CNN was under by employees and critics to address Cuomo's behavior.

Updated 9 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.