Toyota South Africa Motors says it has “cautiously resumed operations” at its Prospecton plant in KwaZulu-Natal, with a plan to ramp up to a production capacity of 75 percent by the end of May 2020.

The facility resumed activity with “limited and essential employees” in each area of the plant in the first week of May, in line with the government-stipulated operational capacity of 50 percent under Alert Level 4 of the COVID-19 lockdown.

By the third week of May, Toyota SA says production was at 40 percent of pre-lockdown volumes, set to reach 75 percent in the last week of the month.

The Japanese firm’s local arm builds the Hilux, Fortuner, Corolla Quest and Hiace (as well as assembles certain Hino models) at its factory in the south of Durban.

Nigel Ward, Toyota SA’s executive vice-president of manufacturing and support, said the company has “deliberately started slowly in order to protect our workforce as well as to afford ourselves the opportunity to fine-tune operations in these challenging times”.

“We will continue in the same vein – assessing the situation in line with the department of trade, industry and competition – and, when necessary, we will amend our approach commensurate to all factors at play, including lockdown regulations and the health of our employees,” Ward said.

According to the firm, only workers with “no underlying health issues” were allowed back at the plant. The operations resumed under “stringent measures”, with a focus on social distancing, personal hygiene and proactive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the factory.

The company says it has adopted a “similarly guarded approach” to its parts’ warehouse facilities and dealerships across the country.

Andrew Kirby, president and CEO of Toyota SA, said “history has shown us that when a global or even national crisis impacts on a country, there is always a quantum or step-change in the market and in the business environment”.

“What we do know is that business will never be the same again. Manufacturing will change, remote working will change, digitisation will accelerate and customers’ buying patterns will never be the same again. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to change the way we do business and make the step-changes that are needed,” Kirby added.