The outbreak of COVID-19, labeled a pandemic by the WHO (World Health Organization) in early March, is likely to change how the world operates. How exactly it’s going to change in the long term remains to be seen, but the short-term changes to the auto industry have been immense: assembly plants have been shut down, foot traffic at dealerships went from little to none, and some automakers are in the process of converting facilities to make medical devices instead of cars.

In an attempt to help our readers get a better handle on what actions their buyers are taking in their respective industries to mitigate the spread of the virus and to continue operating, Clear Seas Research surveyed the audiences of Autonomous Vehicle Technology’s parent company, BNP Media. The media company has more than 50 business-to-business publications across a swath of industries, including manufacturing; architecture, engineering, and construction; mechanical systems; security; packaging; and food and beverage production.

The aim of this research is to help your businesses better weather this trying time. The following is a summary of the report published on March 27th, with the results taken by audiences from BNP Media’s manufacturing group. You can download the full report here as well as the surveys from BNP Media’s other markets conducted by Clear Seas.

We will be updating this until the pandemic’s effects have abated, which likely means we’ll be doing this for months to come.

 

Areas of concern

So much of the U.S. economy is based upon manufacturing. Any slowdowns in one large industrial component, such as automotive, can have a ripple effect throughout the whole country. The slowdown in China was, by itself, enough to cause worry in the U.S. market. And now that the same issues that affected China are in the U.S., survey takers are legitimately concerned for the U.S. economy.

The Clear Seas study asked people to rank, on a scale of 1-10, what their concerns were with regard to the coronavirus outbreak. The current economy was of most concern, ranking 7.99 out of 10. That was followed closely by achieving business goals in the next three months (7.61) and achieving business goals over the next six months (7.48). Supply chain issues, which our sister site reported on, came in at 7.49. Of the least concern in this survey were personally becoming infected by the virus (5.79) and the cybersecurity concerns of so many employees working from home (5.26).

Active business is currently staying on schedule according to 67% of respondents, with 26% saying it has been delayed and 7% saying it’s been cancelled. The same is true of planned business. Sixty-three percent say their planned business is still on schedule, with 31% saying it’s been delayed and 6% saying it’s been cancelled.

 

Getting information remotely

Along with the Age of Information has come the Age of Misinformation. Putting aside what’s real and what’s not with regard to the coronavirus, Clear Seas asked the people taking the survey to share how it is that their companies are getting information to make business decisions, both online and offline. (Note: Because the survey asked the respondents to list their top three, and because everyone had a different top three, the percentages will not equal 100%.)

Manufacturer websites ranked number one in terms of how people are making business decisions online, coming in at 41%. This was followed by the general media at 35%, webinars or other virtual events at 28%, trade media websites (like AutonomousVehicleTech.com) were fourth at 28%.

Respondents were most likely to get information to make business decisions offline via general media outlets at 29%. In a seeming defiant stance at social distancing, in-person training came in second at 15%, while print trade media came in third at 14%. In-person events came in at 12%, tied with print newsletters, to round out the list.

 

Keeping in touch

Ensuring contact with employees and clients has become an essential topic now that everyone has been forced to scatter from their traditional workplace. Most people have likely seen something about online tools used for collaboration, but is that really how businesses in the manufacturing world are keeping in touch? Clear Seas asked what the primary tool for mass communication was with employees, and email was ranked first by a whopping 94% of respondents.

From there, how communication was conducted varied (which, again, means the numbers will not tally 100%). Text messaging came in second with 45%, followed by phone calls (7%), industry-focused apps (6%), video chat (4%), and social media (2%).

The script was flipped a bit when it came to how businesses are communicating with their clients (again, the rankings will not equal 100%). About 72% ranked phone calls first, followed by email marketing (56%), website updates (32%), social media (26%), posted signage (7%), and advertising (4%). Interestingly, “business as usual” was ranked at 18%.

Many businesses have also made adjustments to their marketing or advertising since the outbreak. Of those that said they had made adjustments, 35% said it was to communicate their availability at this time, 29% said they did it to share how they were protecting employees and customers. Six percent said they did it to promote products that could limit the coronavirus impact, and 2% said they did it for some other reason.

Of those that said they hadn’t made any adjustments, 45% said their messaging was the same, and 9% said they were not doing any marketing currently anyway.

 

Future focus

As the industry moves forward with any prognostication regarding the end of the pandemic being murky at best, Clear Seas asked respondents to rank what activities are going to be taking a greater focus compared to six months ago to prepare themselves for when things turn around. Understandably, incorporating additional health and safety procedures into business plans ranked first with 34%. Other areas of note included attending more webinars (22%), reading more industry publications (22%), investigating new technologies (21%), learning new skills (19%), and increasing marketing efforts to stay top of mind (17%).

On the other end, “nothing new, business activity is consistent or better” ranked at 13%, and “waiting it out” ranked at 22%.

Of course, one of the biggest areas of concern for workers is their future employment. As of now only 1% expect to layoff all employees within the next three months, however the fact that 24% expect some employees to be laid off is sobering. Another 22% say they're there will be a temporary suspension of employment, some with, and some without, pay. On a positive note, 33% currently expect no change.

In the end, it’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic is affecting different people and businesses, well, differently despite affecting all of us in the same way. And, remember, this is just one survey taken last week. We here at AVT will continue to update you as more information becomes available. And, so as to give you at least some oasis from the constant barrage of stories about the virus, we’ll continue to provide the typical high-quality autonomy and new-mobility related stories you’ve come to rely on from us.