Hyundai Motor contemplates making face masks

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Hyundai Motor contemplates making face masks

Hyundai Motor may manufacture face masks for its 280,000 global employees as the pandemic drags on and protective equipment might become an expensive necessity for some time to come.

Kim Tae-sik, a spokesperson for the company, said Hyundai Motor is currently discussing the move. He is also a spokesperson for Kia Motors but couldn’t confirm whether that company would be following Hyundai Motor’s protective equipment initiative.

Manufacturing masks will help the company protect workers and would also be a productive use of idle factory space.

Hyundai Motor has temporarily closed factories in Turkey and Brazil and in the U.S. states of Alabama and Georgia. It has indefinitely closed its production plant in Russia.

The exact location of mask production remains undecided. Possible sites include factories that have a lot of unused space and where the making of masks will not interfere with existing production.

Candidates include the Donghee Auto plant in Seosan, South Chungcheong, Hyundai Motor labs and the No. 5 factory in Ulsan, which is temporarily closed until Friday. The local carmaker will move the necessary equipment to the manufacturing site or sites this month at the earliest, according to the company.

As the pandemic remains out of control in some places outside Korea, it may be necessary for workers to wear protective equipment for some time.

Making masks could help Hyundai cut costs, considering the carmaker’s vast employee network. Since mask production facilities are relatively cheap, experts says that Hyundai can save money by making masks.

“It will not be difficult for a company the size of Hyundai Motor to source materials used to produce face masks, like filters. It will definitely be cost-effective,” said Lee Ho-geun, an automotive engineering professor at Daeduk University.

Factories in other countries have been retrofit for the pandemic. Carmakers in Europe and the United States have switched their production lines from cars to masks and disinfection equipment since last month.

BMW said it supplied the German government with 100,000 masks and gloves produced at its factory in Munich. France’s Michelin Group announced last Friday plans to produce 400,000 medical face masks at 10 different factories across Europe.

General Motors plans to switch some of its idle factory space in the United States to produce respirators starting in May. It plans to supply 30,000 respirators through August to the U.S. government.

BY KIM YOUNG-JU, KANG JAE-EUN [kang.jaeeun@joongang.co.kr]

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