Maruti Suzuki Alto cars to be exported are parked in a holding area at Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone in Mundra, 400km from Ahmedabad. Photo: AFP / Sam Panthaky

India’s automobile industry is gradually scaling up its operations as many states have now eased lockdowns following a fall in the number of Covid-19 cases.

Auto majors were forced to close temporarily in May due to lockdowns and curfews, rise in unsold inventory and employees reporting sick. They now expect business activity to pick up with the reopening of dealerships across the country.

According to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, overall vehicle production in May declined by 57% to 8,06,755 units, compared with 18,75,698 units in April this year. Passenger vehicle production witnessed a drop of 58% to 1,28,225 units from 3,05,952 units in April.

The country’s largest carmaker, Maruti Suzuki India, has resumed production with revised safety protocols in place, Press Trust of India reports. “We are ramping up production cautiously. Meanwhile, we continue to vaccinate all employees and families on priority. Over 36,000 employees have already received the first shot,” the auto major stated.

The carmaker had shut down production for a fortnight in May and diverted oxygen for medical purposes. A number of hospitals in the country had faced oxygen shortage in April and May following a surge in coronavirus cases surged, with many patients requiring oxygen support.

Hyundai Motor India has already initiated two shifts at its Chennai plant in Tamil Nadu state and the third shift is to commence from June 21.

The Tamil Nadu government has allowed industrial units with export commitments to operate at 100% capacity. Apart from Hyundai, Ford Motor and Renault-Nissan also have plants in the state.

But workers have raised safety concerns as coronavirus cases continue to be high in the state. They claim hundreds of workers in the Chennai auto hub had contracted Covid-19 and many died. Hyundai and Ford had halted work following workers’ protests last month.

Tata Motors is gradually ramping up its production and hopes to reach the normal level by the end of this month. The automobile unit of salt-to-software conglomerate Tata Group had operated only 50% capacity during April and May as it had to observe safety protocols and pandemic restrictions, and deal with a shortfall in supplies from vendor partners.

Honda Cars India is currently operating 50% of daily production output capacity and plans to gradually ramp up from next month. With the reopening of many dealerships after the easing of lockdowns in various states, the company expects an improvement in business.

Meanwhile, the Confederation of Indian Industry has urged the government to follow a cautious approach in opening up all activities to avoid a possible third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has suggested that the focus should be on economic activities including restarting the supply chains as they are essential for reviving the growth and ensuring livelihoods to the vast majority of the workforce.

Confederation President T.V. Narendran said, “There are many things which do not need to happen. There are many things which need to happen like economic activities.” Social events, however “can wait for a few months,” he said.

A medical expert has warned that India could witness a third wave of the pandemic much sooner than expected if “Covid-appropriate behavior is not followed.” All-India Institute of Medical Sciences Director Randeep Guleria has warned that the third wave of the pandemic may hit India in the next six to eight weeks.

Epidemiologists had earlier indicated that a third wave was inevitable, but was likely to hit the country in September-October.