The first documented case of coronavirus affliction was made late in 2019. Fast forward to today and it has spread to pandemic proportions. Virtually no country, no social status, and no industry were spared from its crippling effects. Curfews have been imposed in many countries, lockdowns of cities have been implemented, and production lines regardless of the nature of business have ground to a halt.
Slowly, individuals were coming down with the sickness and as soon as they hit too close to home, factories were shuttered left and right. From vehicle parts to the vehicles themselves getting backlogged due to the stoppage of operations, it seemed that things were going to turn sour for everyone.
But in what seems to be an act of inadvertent solidarity, the automotive industry has taken a stand against COVID-19. Though the manufacturing of their primary wares – vehicles – has stopped, many companies from around the globe have found ways to help combat the effects of the pandemic.
Various types of machinery are in place, and even with extremely limited power, the miracle of automation is being put to the test as we speak. No, we are not talking about marques making trucks and buses and all other sorts of modes of transportation to ferry people to and from. What the world has made clear is that it needs more of what are called Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, and it is this equipment that we may see rolling out of car factories.
Asia, the epicenter of the coronavirus, and the countries therein have been battling with the virus and its afflicted patients, and PPEs are quickly running out. One of the first to respond was Korean brand Kia. In a bid to aid the medical field and their personnel, they plan to produce face masks for the front lines. They will be using their Yancheng plant in China for this purpose, which will mean quicker distribution around the continent.
Europe, with Italy being hit the hardest, also has manufacturers stepping on the gas to help in the fray. Along with the shortage of PPE, ventilators are also of dire need. Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), as well as parts manufacturer Marelli, were among those re-purposing their production line to make these medical machines. As COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease, ventilators are invaluable, and rapid production and effective distribution will greatly help patients of the pandemic.
The United States, who is only now experiencing the spike of afflicted patients, also has manufacturers helping the efforts. FCA’s States-side plants will be producing face masks, while the Ford Motor Company has teamed up with 3M and GE to also produce ventilators and respirators, as well as masks and more basic PPE.
Other manufacturers have taken steps, albeit not (yet) as far as equipment production, in reminding everyone that we can only beat the pandemic by working together. Volkswagen and Audi have been, in their simple way, promoting the importance of social distancing to curb the spread of the virus. How? The V and W, and the iconic four rings of Audi were separated from each other to signify social distancing.
Geely, on the other hand, used available technology to their advantage. Along with equipping their vehicles with N95 cabin air filtration systems, they also brought vehicle deliveries to a new level by sending fully-disinfected units to their new owners and having the keys delivered by a drone, virtually eliminating human interaction and contact.
If there is anything that the pandemic has taught most of us, we think it is safe to say that it is (the knowledge) that we must never take anything for granted. Being able to spend time with friends and family, being able to hold and hug someone dear, even something as simple as being able to sit together for a meal, these have all been given a price by COVID-19.
The industry as a whole may not be working as it intended, but whatever efforts they are putting forward now are signs that indeed, if there’s a will, there’s a way. Alongside technology and innovation, if the heart of the business remains where it is, then the automotive and mobility industries can and surely will come up with something that is always beneficial to man, and mankind.
Humans have survived more - some worse, some maybe just as bad as the coronavirus - but it is what humans do to help each other weather the storm that mattered through all of it. With different industries pitching in to bring what they can to flatten the curve, and with our own automotive and motoring industry showing that solidarity with the world is stronger than the global competition, perhaps we can rest just a little bit easier knowing that all of us are in this together and that we will walk out of it stronger, healthier, hand-in-hand, finally with no need to have a meter-breadth of space between each other.