Volvo begins production on Tesla rival in China as factories come back online with strict mandates: Face masks at work and in public, multiple self-health checks daily, and tracking
- While many carmakers in the US and Europe have shut down production in response to the novel coronavirus, factories in China are beginning to come back online as infection counts decline.
- That includes the factory making the Polestar 2, a roughly $60,000, 408-horsepower electric sedan under Volvo's performance electric-vehicle brand. Production on the car began this week.
- Analysts have warned that returning to work could risk a second wave of the coronavirus in China, but a Polestar spokesperson detailed to Business Insider some of the safety precautions being taken at its plants - including requiring employees to wear masks at work and in public, and multiple self-health checks per day.
- Polestar 2 deliveries are expected to start later this year, beginning with Europe and followed by the US and China.
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As many carmakers in the US and Europe continue with the same general message - that factories are shutting down for a couple of weeks, maybe longer, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic - operations in China are slowly beginning to move in the opposite direction.
And on Tuesday morning, Volvo's Polestar announced that it had just begun production on a new, 400-horsepower electric sedan at its Luqiao plant in China's Zhejiang province.
Polestar is the EV performance brand under Volvo, both of which are owned by the Chinese company Geely. The new, roughly $60,000 electric sedan, the Polestar 2, will come with 408 horsepower, all-wheel drive, and first deliveries scheduled for later this year. They'll go to Europe initially, followed by China and North America.
In the production announcement, Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath mentioned the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has thus far been the cause of a confirmed 495,000 infections and more than 22,000 deaths worldwide, saying that the world "is facing enormous upheaval in the face of the coronavirus pandemic." The statement then turned into a tone of triumph.
"We start production now under these challenging circumstances with a strong focus on the health and safety of our people," Ingenlath said. "This is a great achievement and the result of huge efforts from the staff in the factory and the team securing the supply chain. I have a huge amount of respect for the entire team."
An announcement about the start of production on a new car might seem outlandish to those in parts of Europe and North America, given that it came on the same day Ford extended plant shutdowns in the US, Canada, and Mexico - in addition to a plethora of other shutdowns in recent weeks, ranging from the everyday car brands to names like Lamborghini, Ferrari, Bentley, and Rolls-Royce.
It might also come as a surprise given that Geely's car arm officially introduced contactless new-car delivery the day before, and a new Chinese-market SUV with an air-filtration system meant to combat the coronavirus just one month prior.
The contactless-delivery announcement didn't mention the virus, but videos show a complete disinfection at the dealership and keys delivered by drone, not hand, in a clear bag. A Geely spokesperson also previously told Business Insider that recent concerns around the coronavirus pushed the company up disinfection processes.
But as noted by Reuters earlier this month, some factories in China, where the outbreak took off early and has lately been reined in by containment measures, have begun to reopen after weeks of closure as part of a wider attempt to get the economy back to a quasi-normal state. The same goes for Volvo, whose CEO, Hakan Samuelsson, described production in China as at a "standstill" in an Automotive News story from early February.
"All factories are back, and there are very positive signs of normalization, all dealerships are open and showrooms are showing signs of being very close to normal," Samuelsson told the Financial Times. "Everybody has the feeling they are through."
But the risk hasn't disappeared. The World Health Organization reported 103 confirmed new cases in China as of Monday, with "new" referring to cases in the past 24 hours. That's compared to 16,354 new cases in the US, but it still isn't zero. Plus, confirmed cases don't equal existing cases, and testing capabilities and frequencies differ - the spike in the US, for example, reflects increased testing.
CNN reported on Tuesday that as parts of China try to revive some of the economy, Beijing acknowledged the risk of doing so after some businesses rushed back "only to be forced to shut down again when workers became infected."
Meanwhile, experts warned of the wider effects tied to getting back to work, via CNN:
Analysts caution that the return of millions of people to work in China could also risk another outbreak if the virus hasn't been totally eradicated in local communities. "In our view, the risk of a second wave of Covid-19 in China is rising," wrote Ting Lu, chief China economist for Nomura, in a recent report.
A spokesperson for Polestar told Business Insider that this week's production announcement actually marks a delay in the schedule for the Polestar 2, as the company is "only starting now that everything has safely reopened."
The spokesperson also said that while the plant producing the Polestar 2 is operated by Volvo instead of Polestar, the plant producing the Polestar 1 model in the Chinese city of Chengdu has multiple precautions in place to contain spread.
Those precautions include: 14-day quarantine periods with "transparent whereabout tracking for everybody wanting to enter the plant" via self-reporting through an app; mandatory health checks; temperature scanning at entrances and self checks three times per day for all employees; mandatory face masks to be worn in public places and in the plant; "intensified disinfection programs"; hand sanitizer available to all employees; social distancing on the work floor and reduced face-to-face meetings; no business travel; requiring employees to use their own tableware; and emergency procedures and reaction plans that include "the use of a specialized isolation and treatment room."
The Polestar spokesperson said precautions at the Luqiao plant are likely similar, but Business Insider has reached out to Volvo for confirmation.
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