Here we are in late March 2020 in an uncertain world and, closer to home, we’re about a week into the Movement Control Order, all to curb the spread and rising infection rate of the COVID-19 virus. People are at home and told to stay there, taking much of the country to a government-imposed standstill.
As with all industries, there’s no denying the impact of the pandemic on the automotive sector. It is of unprecedented scope with lasting effects all the way from the supply chain to the now-drying demand for all but essential items in the minds of consumers who, in so many countries now, are being instructed to stay indoors and avoid any unnecessary social/ business contact or activity.
Early on, with the virus being confined to its origins in Wuhan, the capital city of China’s Hubei province, automakers braced for a major disruption should the situation worsen, shifting their operations where possible to skirt around problematic areas. With the dimming prospects of a swift solution to the outbreak, a seemingly concerted effort was made to shutter manufacturing and sales in the interest of personnel health and safety.
Staple events on the automotive calendar such as the Geneva Motor Show, scheduled to take place earlier this month, were the first to succumb. Following that, all major motorsport bodies issued postponement notices for races and events all the way to June, though there’s a likely extension in the works.
So, it’s bad.
It’s also not yet known if the worst is behind us or yet to come. The situation varies dramatically from country to country. That said, one place very much worth looking at is square one, the epicentre - China - for a little future projection. By all accounts, the People’s Republic with its over 1 billion population has been the hardest hit, crippling the manufacturing industries it thrives on, automotive included.
Amazingly, as of today, the country is reporting that no new cases have been recorded, with efforts now focused on the treatment of existing patients. But for the locals there, does that mean that things are back to normal? Perhaps for the first time after some very dark days, cautious optimism can take root. Wuhan itself is due to have its city-wide lockdown lifted on April 8th, meanwhile factories in other provinces have reopened and begun fresh recruitment exercises.
For now, the glimmers of normalcy are isolated but nonetheless crucial as no other country is as far along the COVID-19 trail. Their recovery should gain momentum if the outbreak is stemmed as the Chinese government says. Should that be the case, there is light at the end of our own tunnel if the situation plays out more or less similarly for us as well as other countries.
Taking the optimistic view that the parts machining and manufacturing Goliath that is China is regaining strength, it could be enough of a catalyst to jumpstart the reawakening of trade, industry, and economy on a global scale - but this has to happen in tandem as other nations hopefully also start to recover from the COVID-19 epidemic within their own borders.
Each country is at different stages of the pandemic’s timetable and are on differing levels of preparedness for such a nationwide medical crisis. Furthermore, the lengths China went to in order to quell the spread of the virus were thorough but, according to some, severe and heavy handed. However, if there are indeed no new cases reported and life in the Hubei province set to start resembling normalcy mere months later, those results are impossible to dismiss.
The automotive industry has endured harsher setbacks. Though the journey ahead to the complete eradication of COVID-19 is still a long one, a point where its impact is diminished enough for the world to unpause is getting closer, day by day. When that happens, and the itch to drive is finally scratched, cars will again be the lifeblood of roads everywhere.
If anything, this period of confinement gives us time to reflect and appreciate the freedom and autonomy cars provide, and we’ll be even hungrier for better ones to sit in our driveways soon.