Travelers arrive at the international terminal of the O’Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois, on March 15, 2020.
Travelers arrive at the international terminal of the O’Hare Airport in Chicago, Illinois, on March 15, 2020.
Photo: KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI (Getty Images)
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Chaos reigns in the form of horrifically long lines and waits at United States airports from returning Americans in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, more automaker production halts, and some good news coming from Wuhan. All that and more in The Morning Shift for Monday, March 16, 2020.

1st Gear: A Flawed System

As it has been written again and again, COVID-19 (the coronavirus disease) exposes exactly how fragile the established order is in our country. If you’ve returned from a trip abroad recently (I’m talking this past weekend), then you’ll know that first-hand.

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Thousands of travelers, whether or not affected by the European travel ban, packed tightly into airports across the United States in long customs lines due to new COVID-19 screenings over the weekend, reports the Wall Street Journal.

From the story:

Chaos and confusion ensued at airports across the country, including New York, Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth, as anxious passengers waited sometimes for hours in long and cramped customs lines. Passengers said they mingled with others who appeared sick and received brief, inconsistent medical checks.

Airports are bracing for the next wave of international flights to land, hoping that efforts Sunday to boost staffing and slow down the flow of passengers will help avoid more snarls.

Apparently, the Trump administration’s European travel ban left the Department of Homeland Security, which is in charge of implementing said ban, with only two days to start recruiting medical screeners to process the wave of panicked and misinformed travelers coming back from Europe.

Since the president “omitted any mention of exceptions to the sweeping ban—American citizens, green-card holders and their family members are all still permitted to travel back to the U.S.,” many abroad falsely thought they needed to cut their trips short and return immediately.

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What’s more:

There had been no additional health screening of passengers, even those arriving from places where virus cases had surged, in the days before the new restrictions took effect, many travelers said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency charged with carrying out customs and medical screenings, has access to passenger rosters at least 24 hours before a flight is set to land in the U.S., one former official said, and it isn’t clear why the agency didn’t recruit more staff ahead of time to meet Americans trying to come home.

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Travelers suffered hours-long waits at airports such as John F. Kennedy International Airport over the weekend, which is especially concerning because New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had just banned gatherings of more than 500 people.

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In a time when people are encouraged to self-quarantine and practice social distancing, this isn’t good.

Vera Tilson, who arrived at JFK on Saturday from Madrid, relived to the WSJ,

A crowd waiting for medical screening quickly spilled beyond the nine or 10 chairs that had been placed for them. There were only a few immigrations officers, and they didn’t wear masks. Ms. Tilson and her husband, who didn’t have their temperatures taken and weren’t asked about their travel history, opted to rent a car and drive home to Rochester rather than boarding another flight.

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She said, “It’s hard to have confidence in our ability to handle this crisis seeing such a poorly thought out process handling arrivals.”

2nd Gear: More Production Halts

In an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19, many automakers are halting production so their workers don’t get sick.

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Fiat Chrysler said today it’s pausing production for the next two weeks at the majority of its plants in Europe in order to keep its staff safe and to “effectively respond to the interruption in market demand by ensuring the optimization of supply,” according to a company statement.

The suspensions are to last through March 27 and will see the temporary closings of Italy’s Melfi, Pomigliano, Cassino, Mirafiori, Grugliasco, and Modena plants, Serbia’s Kragujevac plant and Poland’s Tychy plant.

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Reuters spoke with Marco Opipari, an analyst at Fidentiis, who said:

a few weeks of closures was not a big problem in an over-supplied European auto industry and lost production could be recovered later on.

“The real problem is on the demand side, people are not buying cars now, and sales volumes are expected to be very bad in March, with a real impact on automakers’ earnings,” he said.

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On the home front, Volkswagen is closing its factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, today for a precautionary deep cleaning against the spread of COVID-19, reports Automotive News Europe. The automaker told the outlet the closing will “allow plant employees time to make arrangements for child care during the two-week school closure there. This will be paid time off.”

It continued, “We will also take this time to augment the already increased sanitary and deep-cleaning measures undertaken at our facility.”

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The plant will open again on Tuesday. It employs about 3,800 people.

Stay safe and healthy out there, everyone.

3rd Gear: Honda In Wuhan

Meanwhile, in Wuhan, epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, Honda’s assembly plant resumed production last Wednesday, reports the Detroit Free Press. It had been shut for Chinese New Year from Jan. 23 to Feb. 3, but was closed indefinitely when China’s government locked down the Hubei province to control the COVID-19 spread.

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Production “resumed with limited volume after a long suspension and may take time to recover to full [output],” a Honda spokesperson told the outlet. The plant produces the CR-V, Civic, Inspire, VR-X, XR-V, and Jade, though none of these cars are sold in the U.S.

Over the weekend, the doctors in Wuhan celebrated the closing of the last temporary hospital after new cases of the virus fell dramatically in China, reports the Independent. Health experts said on Saturday there’d been 13 new deaths but just 11 new cases, which included people who’d recently come from other affected countries. Over 65,000 people in China have recovered from COVID-19.

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It seems like things are starting to pick up in China. I’m hoping we’re not far behind them.

4th Gear: Rams For The Youths

Alright, enough of the stupid virus! Here’s something you actually came here to read about: Ram! Trucks! Yeah!

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Ram has apparently become a very favorable truck for The Youths (that is, buyers under the age of 35), according to Automotive News. Here are some numbers, as pulled from the story:

Edmunds, in a report last month on the pickup market, said Ram has increased sales by “winning over the most coveted section of the market: people under 35.” Ram led the industry — not just pickups — with registrations for this age group.

Ram leapfrogged the Ford F-Series with 43,282 new vehicles registered to people under 35 in 2019, a 10 percent gain from 2018, according to IHS Markit. Ford’s under-35 tally last year was 40,968, down 14 percent.

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Ram currently sells redesigned light- and heavy-duty models along with the 1500 Classic, the entry-level version. Automotive News highlights that the Classic also features “46 configurations to choose from for the 2019 model year.” Buyers do love choices and customizations.

Perhaps significantly more importantly, the Classic is relatively cheap. Per Auto News:

Edmunds said the lower price point of the Classic has appealed to many younger buyers who can’t spend $50,000 on a truck. The average transaction price of a Ram Classic was $39,121 last year, according to Edmunds, compared with $48,753 for the newer version.

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Cheaper trucks. What a concept.

5th Gear: The Mid-Engine Corvette Hits Dealers, Finally

After some pesky production delays over the UAW strike, the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette is finally starting to show up in showrooms.

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Les Stanford Chevrolet in Dearborn, Michigan, took order of “a truckload of 2020 Corvette C8s” after they started shipping from General Motors’ Bowling Green assembly plant on March 4, reports the Detroit News.

Even if you didn’t order one or have no intention of getting one, that still means you can probably head down to your local dealer to check out the car in person soon. Then report back here and tell me what you think. I’m curious.

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In the meantime, you can read our first drive review here.

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Reverse: West Point Is Born

From History:

The United States Military Academy–the first military school in the United States–is founded by Congress for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science. Located at West Point, New York, the U.S. Military Academy is often simply known as West Point.

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Neutral: Have You Traveled During COVID-19?

Personally, I was on vacation when all this shit hit the fan, so my Saturday morning at JFK was ridiculous. Hundreds of people were queued up in the Terminal 4 customs hall, some having been there for at least three hours, all to be processed by a small handful of agents.

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Why weren’t there more agents? Clearly, everyone saw how many people were waiting. Children were crying. Tempers were high. Who knows. Efficiency is for the birds, baby.

Writer at Jalopnik and consumer of many noodles.

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