June 20, 2024

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Governments help restart Wuhan carmaking

SHANGHAI — Wuhan, where the Covid-19 pandemic started, ended its 76-day lockdown on Wednesday, April 8. The next day, a train carrying 216 Chevrolet Equinox crossovers built by General Motors’ local plant left the city for the central Asia country of Uzbekistan, according to the Wuhan government’s website.

GM had resumed production in the Wuhan area in late March. Domestic Chinese and other global automakers had restarted local output in mid-March — one month after the extended Chinese New Year Holiday, thanks to strenuous efforts made by the local government, which was also imposing strict limits on personal activity.

Wuhan was locked down on Jan. 23 — prohibiting any travel in or out of the city of 1.4 million. Six days later, the lockdown was widened to include the entire 60 million residents of Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital.

Wuhan is also a major auto production center in China — plants in Wuhan and neighboring cities Xiangyang and Shiyan account for more than 9 percent of China’s annual auto output at normal times, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

Auto manufacturing has long been deemed a pillar industry for China’s economy. It is even more so for Hubei: The local auto sector contributes roughly 20 percent of the province’s GDP each year, double the national average, according to estimates of the manufacturers association and the Hubei government.

Given the auto industry’s pivotal role in the local economy, the Wuhan and Hubei governments placed auto manufacturers and suppliers in the second tier, behind only medical-device suppliers, on its priority list for assistance to jump-start industrial production.

Their first step was to ensure the functioning of logistics for auto companies.

Situated along the Yangtze River — China’s longest — and a trunk railway line, Wuhan is also a transport hub in China. In early February, while local automakers had yet to restart output, the Wuhan government coordinated with operators of China’s state-owned railway and port systems to allow local logistics companies to transport automakers’ existing output by rail and river.

In early March, 22 additional railway routes were included to transport vehicles from the Wuhan area, according to Dongfeng Motor Group, a major state-owned Chinese automaker and a local joint venture partner of Honda Motor Co., Renault and PSA Group.

Logistics companies in the rest of China were also allowed to ship parts and components to vehicle assembly plants in Wuhan, Xiangyang and Shiyan.