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Ford targets April 6 for production restart; automakers face downgrades

TOP NEWS

* Ford Motor Co. is aiming to restart production at select plants in North America as early as April 6. The company said production at the Hermosillo assembly plant will resume April 6 on one shift, while operations at the Dearborn truck plant, Kentucky truck plant, Kansas City assembly plant's transit line and Ohio assembly plant are expected to restart April 14.

* S&P Global Ratings downgraded Ford to BB+ from BBB- and placed the carmaker on CreditWatch Negative. S&P also placed all ratings of General Motors Co., Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. on CreditWatch Negative due to the coronavirus pandemic. Moody's placed the ratings of General Motors, Daimler AG, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, Jaguar Land Rover Ltd., Peugeot SA, Volkswagen AG, Volvo Car AB (publ.) and McLaren Holdings Ltd. on review for a possible downgrade, citing the risks associated with the pandemic.

CARMAKERS

* Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the company's factory in New York will be reopened "as soon as humanly possible" to make ventilators to fight COVID-19.

* Juergen Stackmann, management board member for the Volkswagen passenger cars brand, said the Chinese market has started to pick up, and Germany will return to normal in the summer as "society and the economy cannot withstand" any further delay, Reuters reported, citing the executive's interview to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

READ MORE: Sign up for our weekly coronavirus newsletter here, and read our latest coverage on the crisis here.

* Ford Motor said it has received $15.1 billion of the $15.4 billion it planned to draw down from two credit lines. The company said its Brazilian subsidiary expects to receive the remaining $300 million in April.

* Kia Motors Corp. plans to make face masks at its Yancheng plant in China to help contain the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters reported, citing a spokesperson. Kia will stop operations at its West Point, Ga., factory because of the coronavirus outbreak, The Detroit News reported. The report noted that this factory was one of the last auto plants still open in the U.S.

* Renault SA will suspend most of its operations in Bursa, Turkey, because of the coronavirus crisis.

* Peugeot SA's joint venture in China with Dongfeng Motor Group Co. Ltd. has resumed car production at its plant in Wuhan city, Reuters reported.

ELECTRIC VEHICLES

* Tesla hired energy group E.ON to design energy solutions for its gigafactory near Berlin within 18 months, Reuters reported, citing CEO Johannes Teyssen.

POLICY, REGULATION AND SAFETY

* The U.S. auto industry is set for a rescue by the federal government for the second time in 12 years as the U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion economic rescue package to support U.S. citizens and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. While the package makes no specific provisions for the automakers, the industry is expected to receive loans or loan guarantees as well as tax benefits. The rescue package will now be tabled at the House of Representatives for approval.

* Chinese authorities said plans to offer new licenses to new energy vehicles and other policies to boost auto sales were accidentally published online and are yet to be researched, Reuters reported, citing a Weibo post by Beijing Municipal Commerce Bureau.

* Ford Motor issued a recall of select 2014-15 Ford Fiesta, 2014-16 Ford Fusion and 2014-16 Lincoln MKZ vehicles, affecting 268,347 vehicles in North America, to fix side-door latches. The company is also recalling 3,631 select 2021 Ford E-Series vehicles to check wire harnesses in the affected units. In addition, Ford has recalled over 54,292 select 2006-10 Ford Fusion, 2006-10 Mercury Milan and 2006-10 Lincoln MKZ vehicles in Canada due to issues with hydraulic control units.

AUTO PARTS AND EQUIPMENT

* ZF Friedrichshafen AG withheld financial guidance for 2020, citing uncertainties over the COVID-19 pandemic. The company reported consolidated group sales for 2019 of €36.5 billion, compared to €36.9 billion in the previous year. ZF's proposed acquisition of WABCO Holdings Inc. is now expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2020.

* Valeo SA said investment firm Fonds Stratégique de Participations has increased stake in the company. Julie Avrane-Chopard, senior partner at McKinsey & Co., will represent FSP on Valeo's board, replacing Georges Pauget, who has resigned. The French fund has built a stake of 4% in French car equipment maker since 2019, Reuters reported, citing a statement from FSP.

* BorgWarner Inc. will suspend operations at certain manufacturing and assembly facilities in North America and Europe. The company noted that a significant reduction in automotive or truck production would hurt its sales to OEMs but said it is yet to estimate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

AUTOMOTIVE RETAIL

* Global auto sales are expected to fall more than 12% year over year in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to an IHS Markit report.

* Vehicle sales in U.S. states placed under lockdowns will drop more than 80% in the coming weeks, Reuters reported, citing Tyson Jominy, J.D. Power's vice president of data and analytics. Auto retail sales through the week of March 22 reportedly dropped 22% year over year in the U.S. and 40% in some cities on the West Coast.

* Car dealer Asbury Automotive Group Inc. scrapped its plan to buy the assets of luxury-car dealer Park Place Dealerships for $1 billion. Asbury has drawn $237 million from its revolving credit facility and an additional $110 million under the used vehicle floor plan facility to increase its cash position and preserve financial flexibility amid uncertainties caused by the COVID-19.

* Group 1 Automotive Inc. announced measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic that includes furloughing over 5,800 employees in the U.S. and U.K., pay cuts for executives and a reduction of U.S. marketing expenses by more than 75%. The company's overall U.S. vehicle sales in March are down 50% to 70% from normal expected March volumes.

* The North American unit of Porsche, owned by Volkswagen Group, is expanding online sales, offering temporary customer payment relief, incentivizing home delivery, reducing operational costs for dealer partners, relaxing dealer performance bonus objectives and extending finance to its 192 dealers in the U.S. amid a slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

MOTORCYCLES

* S&P Global Ratings downgraded Piaggio & C. SpA to B+ with a negative outlook.

The day ahead

Early morning futures indicators pointed to a lower opening for the U.S. market.

In Asia, Hang Seng fell 0.74% at 23,352.34, while the Nikkei 225 was down 4.51% to 18,664.60.

In Europe, around midday, the FTSE 100 was down 1.59% to 5,597.88, and the Euronext 100 was down 1.66% to 846.77.

On the macro front

The GDP, international trade in goods report, jobless claims report, corporate profits, retail inventories report, wholesale inventories report, the EIA natural gas report, Kansas City Fed manufacturing index, Fed balance sheet, and money supply are due out today.

Click here to read about today's financial markets, setting out the factors driving stocks, bonds and currencies around the world ahead of the New York open.

The Daily Dose is updated as of 8 a.m. ET. Some external links may require a subscription. Links are current as of publication time, and we are not responsible if those links are unavailable later.