AKRON—Tier 1 tire manufacturers Michelin, Goodyear and Continental A.G. say they have resumed operations in China, albeit in a limited capacity, in the wake of the outbreak and spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.
Michelin said it received the "necessary authorization" to re-open three facilities on Feb. 10, while Goodyear reopened operations on Feb. 10 on a "limited basis" at its plant in Pulandian, China, according to Rich Kramer, Goodyear's chairman, CEO and president.
Employment at the Pulandian factory is listed as 1,900. Goodyear also has a development center located on the grounds of the Pulandian factory.
Goodyear said operations were resumed there in order "to ensure that we can support our customers across the Asia Pacific region, with many precautions in place to prevent the spread of illness."
Conti said a majority of its production sites also had resumed operations on that date, "in accordance with current official regulations and approvals by the respective local authorities."
Goodyear, Michelin and Conti have suspended travel to China except for "business critical" trips.
"We have advised all associates worldwide to consider if their objectives for any near-term travel can instead be met through technology," Goodyear said in a statement. We are actively encouraging our associates to follow CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines for preventing the spread of respiratory viruses. Our Goodyear associates located in the Asia-Pacific region are receiving specific local guidance as the situation evolves there."
In order to minimize the risk of spreading the virus, the Akron-based tire maker said it is recommending that office associates in China who can work remotely plan to do so until at least Feb. 17, or otherwise notified.
"Our thoughts go out to all those affected by the coronavirus," Goodyear said. "The safety and well-being of our associates are Goodyear's highest considerations, and we are closely monitoring this dangerous health risk and taking actions to protect our team from exposure to it."
Michelin said it is "repatriating, on a voluntary basis, our employees from China to the country of origin or to another less exposed country."
The Clermont-Ferrand, France-based tire maker also said its "first concern has been to support employees who could be impacted by this situation. We are monitoring the situation from day to day in order to inform our teams and adapt our precautionary measures."
Conti, which employs 24,000 in China at 50 locations, has issued travel restrictions to and from China, according to a spokesperson. Only travel that is absolutely necessary for business is permissible in isolated cases with prior approval.
"Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the Hubei province, our main focus has been on the health of our employees there and on maintaining our supply chains," Conti said.
"We are supporting our sites, for example by providing our employees with personal protective equipment," the German tire maker said. "At the same time, we are continuing to review our supply chains and are working closely with our suppliers and customers to minimize any disruptions."
Bridgestone Corp., the world's top tire producer, according to the Rubber & Plastics News' 2019 Global Tire Report, said its "most important priority is to ensure the well-being and safety of our employees and the integrity of our operations."
Bridgestone said the virus has not caused any impact "to our operations or personnel in the region, but we are monitoring the situation closely and will take any necessary steps as things progress."
According to a national report, more than 1,100 deaths have been attributed to the virus since it was identified late last year, but the rate of new infections is falling.
The CDC reports that the coronavirus first was detected in Wuhan, and said many victims can be linked to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. However, several who have tested positive for the disease have had no exposure to animal markets. The CDC said it remains unclear how the virus spreads among people.
Those who test positive for the virus show mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and difficulty breathing. More than 44,000 confirmed cases have been reported in 24 countries as of Feb. 12.
Michelin, Goodyear, Conti and Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd.'s holding company in China, Sumitomo Rubber (China) Co. Ltd., say they have donated money to fight the spread of the disease.
According to a spokesperson, Michelin China has made a donation of the equivalent of about $400,000 to authorities of the city of Wuhan "in solidarity with this city, the epicenter of the epidemic."
Goodyear will donate approximately $285,000 to fight against the coronavirus.
"Working with the Dalian Chapter of the China Youth Development Fund (CYDF), the donation will be used to support frontline doctors and nurses stationed in Hubei province and Dalian city hospitals," Goodyear said. "We are also leveraging Goodyear's Global Procurement resources to secure items including masks, gloves, shoe covers, bed sheets and gowns."
Conti said it has donated more than $700,000 to the cause.
Sumitomo has donated around $32,000 to the China Charity Federation to support its efforts to provide relief to those affected by coronavirus.
"All of us at the Sumitomo Rubber Group are praying for the speedy recovery of everyone who has contracted this new strain of coronavirus as well as a swift end to this tragic epidemic," the company said.
Goodyear officials said it is too early to determine whether the disruption will cause tire shortages in the near-term.
"I think it's a bit hard to predict given all the variables that have to happen to play out," Kramer said, noting that the channel inventories are in "good shape" and "there's not a lot of excess tires at there at the moment."
Kramer said that any disruption likely would impact the low end of the market, "and that's not exactly where we play," he said.
"... The focus ... we will continue to have is in the markets in the segments where we know we have a value proposition that works."
Goodyear, he said, doesn't see the coronavirus disruption "as a really big opportunity or a big impact for us as we look forward."