Automakers double down in Covid-19 fight to keep plants rolling


Companies are working hard to ensure employee safety, especially with plants operating at peak capacity to meet robust demand. Last month, passenger vehicle sales shot up 126%, preceded by 24% growth in February and 25% growth in January. There has been no impact on production as factory workers are able to travel to their units and report for duty

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The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in India is proving to be worse than the first and has forced automakers to desperately try and keep the upward momentum going.

Carmakers, two-wheeler manufacturers and parts suppliers have stepped up their Covid-19 safety protocols and other regulations to avoid a replay of the series of shutdowns of last year that severely crippled production.

Companies are currently running their plants at peak capacity thanks to robust demand. March, for instance, saw 126 percent growth in passenger vehicle sales, preceded by 24 percent growth in February and 25 percent growth in January.

No impact on production yet

Responding to queries from Moneycontrol, automakers say that so far there has been no impact on production as factory workers are able to come to their units while the administrative workforce is largely working from home. Several companies started vaccination drives for all eligible employees and their families to negate any disruption to business.

Ravindra Kumar G.P., CHRO, Tata Motors, said: “At this stage, there is no impact on our operations. The administration has been a great supporter when the overnight curfew was imposed. Industries have been allowed to operate and employees are able to commute between their homes and our plant without hindrance by following the necessary Covid-19 protocols.”

Tata Motors runs four factories in Maharashtra, making cars, SUVs, trucks and luxury cars in addition to engine and transmission manufacturing units, design and research & development offices. The Mumbai-based company also has several offices in Mumbai and Pune.

Maharashtra has been the worst affected State during the second wave, accounting for more than half of the total number of Covid-19 cases in the country. This has forced the Uddhav Thackeray-led government to announce a partial lockdown across the State, including a total lockdown on weekends under the banner ‘Break the chain’.

“Our health staff and union representatives work to educate every employee on the shopfloor to follow the Covid-19 guidelines. We have stringent screening at all gates and if a symptomatic case is identified, we ensure that the employee is isolated and provided with support for quarantine thereafter along with robust contact tracing. We ensure that all safety protocols, distancing norms and hygiene standards are followed with diligence,” added Kumar.

The other major automotive company having a sizable manufacturing footprint in Maharashtra is SUV-specialist Mahindra & Mahindra. M&M has the highest number of vehicles, engine and transmission plants in Maharashtra, in (Chakan) Pune, Nashik, Nagpur, Igatpuri and Kandivali. The company’s administrative office is located in Mumbai.

Rajeshwar Tripathi, Chief Human Resources Officer, Automotive and Farm sectors, Mahindra & Mahindra, said:  “We are carefully monitoring the second wave of the pandemic and are taking appropriate action. We continue to remain agile and adhere to the protocols laid out by the government authorities. In accordance, our employees continue to work from home and our plants remain operational with strict safety protocols implemented to safeguard our associates.”

WFH, less travel

Honda Cars India (HCIL), which had shut one of its two factories as part of a restructuring exercise, has encouraged work from home to reduce employees’ travel as much as possible. “We continue to follow rigorous protocols for social distancing and lean attendance across offices,” said an HCIL spokesperson.

In comparison, RPG Group-controlled company Ceat is one step ahead of the rest. None of its employees is required to come to the corporate office or for support functions at manufacturing plants.

“We have been following very strict Covid-19 protocols across all our manufacturing units and will continue with the same. We have switched completely to work-from-home for all employees in corporate functions and in support functions across manufacturing units. All employees in sales have been given guidelines to minimise travel and visit markets only if necessary,” said Milind Apte, CHRO, Ceat.