Volkswagen to close European plants for two weeks

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Volkswagen has said it will close most of its European plants for two weeks due to uncertainty over demand for cars and parts amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The German car giant added that it is not possible to give a reliable outlook for this year’s profits.

The firm said, however, that its Chinese business is coming back as the number of new virus cases lessens there, and insisted that its ambitious plans to scale up the production of electric cars remains on track.

CEO Herbert Diess made the announcement at the start of the company’s annual news conference.

The dpa news agency, citing employee representatives, said that the last shifts would run this Friday in most locations.

The company’s facilities in Italy, where the outbreak has been particularly severe, have already shut down.

The company had previously said it expects a 4% increase in sales this year, but chief financial officer Frank Witter said uncertainty about the severity and duration of the virus outbreak made it impossible to give a reliable prediction.

Mr Diess said 2020 would be “a very difficult year” as the virus outbreak “presents us with unknown challenges”.

He said the company still intended to achieve its ambitious rollout of the ID.3, a mass-market electric compact being produced in Zwickau, Germany, that should hit the market this summer.

The car is key to the company’s efforts to meet tough new European Union limits on emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.

“We are standing by our electrification plan,” Mr Diess said.

Volkswagen last year made net profit of 14.02 billion euro (£12.71 billion), up 15% from 12.2 billion euro (£11.06 billion) in 2018. Revenue for the year rose 7% to 252.6 billion euro (£229 billion).

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