Uncertainty remains as automotive restart efforts pick up

Efforts to restart the automotive industry accelerated last month as automakers and suppliers gradually reopened more factories and ramped up production of vehicles and parts. But “a high degree of uncertainty” stemming from supply chain challenges, consumer confidence and a weakened economy remain concerns, said John Bozzella of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

Bozzella, CEO of the auto lobbying group representing most major automakers, spoke Wednesday at a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on transportation and critical infrastructure. Witnesses included national trade groups representing various transportation sectors such as trucking and freight railroads.

“As automakers, suppliers and others absorb COVID-related losses, the industry will have less capital to invest in future technology development,” he said in written testimony. “In this highly competitive, capital-intensive industry, policies that support market stability will become even more critical as we take on the simultaneous challenge of recovering from the pandemic and sustaining investments in the innovations that will define the future of personal mobility.”

The alliance has been working with the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association and the Original Equipment Suppliers Association on health and safety guidance to ensure a safe and coordinated restart. The effort includes implementing precautions such as temperature scans, safety goggles, face shields and physical adjustments to the work environment.

Bozzella also called for continued investments in new propulsion systems that reduce emissions and in automated and connected vehicle technologies.

“As evidenced by our response to this public health crisis, the auto industry is up to the challenge — but we cannot do it alone,” he said. “Maintaining U.S. leadership in automotive innovation requires a shared commitment from both industry and our partners in government.”

Bozzella also commented on the nationwide protests and civil unrest surrounding the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.

“The workforce of the American auto industry fully represents the diversity of our country, and for generations the auto industry has been a powerful engine for economic advancement and mobility for Americans of all races, creeds and backgrounds,” he said. “The leaders of our member companies have spoken out with powerful words, reiterating their values and emphasizing that racism and hate have no place in their organizations, in our industry, in our society. We stand in solidarity against racism and advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The alliance had not previously issued a public statement on what Bozzella referred to as a “time of great stress” within the country.

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