Webasto employees infected with coronavirus; global auto sector to be affected

Webasto employees infected with coronavirus; global auto sector to be affected

German automotive parts company Webasto has said three of its employees have become infected with the coronavirus following the visit of another employee from China to the company's headquarters in Stockdorf, Bavaria. 

According to Webasto, a Chinese employee from Shanghai had tested positive for the virus upon his return to China following his visit to the company headquarters.

The company, which has 11 locations in China, including in Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus, has banned travel to and from China for two weeks and employees at the Stockdorf location were offered to work at home this week.

”The health of our employees and their protection is most important to us. Both colleagues are doing quite well, considering the circumstances. They are both treated in hospital and we are in contact with them,” explained Holger Engelmann, CEO of Webasto.

Engelmann also said the company is investigating colleagues who were in contact with the three who have been infected.

Meanwhile, as the death toll from coronavirus rises in China, it could have a major impact on the country’s automotive sector. Though China is the world’s largest car market, the country’s 2019 vehicle market was down by 8.2% to 25.8 million units, with a drop of 2% expected this year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM). Last year, the market saw the second straight annual drop for the world’s biggest car market, hit by a weaker economy and US-China trade tensions.

 Already CAAM expects sales to slide to about 25.31 million vehicles in 2020 and the outbreak could cause vehicle purchases to be put on hold in the coming months, taking the market down further. Hence, the next few months will prove to be crucial.

 Also, the global automotive industry has a large footprint in the region in central China and foreign vehicle makers, especially those with joint ventures in Hubei province and Wuhan, have started pulling their foreign staff out of their China operations. 

Companies with major manufacturing operations in Hubei province include Groupe PSA, Renault, Nissan and Honda.  It is also home to state-owned Chinese car manufacturer Dongfeng Motor Corp. and numerous assembly plants.

 Manufacturers may reduce output levels when it becomes clearer how the market has reacted to the crisis down the road, and if any support will be forthcoming from the administrative capital Beijing to prop up the sector. 

 China holds a key card in determining the health of the automotive sector this year and if it will flounder, it will have a ripple affect across the globe.


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