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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

54 mins ago - Health

Boris Johnson announces month-long COVID-19 lockdown in U.K.

Prime Minsiter Boris Johnson. Photo: NurPhoto / Getty Images

A new national lockdown will be imposed in the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Saturday, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country topped 1 million.

Details: Starting Thursday, people in England must stay at home, and bars and restaurants will close, except for takeout and deliveries. All non-essential retail will also be shuttered. Different households will be banned from mixing indoors. International travel, unless for business purposes, will be banned. The new measures will last through at least December 2.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

The massive early vote

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Early voting in the 2020 election across the U.S. on Saturday had already reached 65.5% of 2016's total turnout, according to state data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project.

Why it matters: The coronavirus pandemic and its resultant social-distancing measures prompted a massive uptick in both mail-in ballots and early voting nationwide, setting up an unprecedented and potentially tumultuous count in the hours and days after the polls close on Nov. 3.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Ipsos poll: COVID trick-or-treat.
  2. World: Greece tightens coronavirus restrictions as Europe cases spike — Austria reimposes coronavirus lockdowns amid surge of infections
  3. Economy: Conference Board predicts economy won’t fully recover until late 2021.
  4. Technology: Fully at-home rapid COVID test to move forward.
  5. States: New York rolls out new testing requirements for visitors.