Michigan was to allow its factories to resume production on Monday after more than six weeks of closure due to the coronavirus, thereby removing a major hurdle for North American automakers looking to return thousands of employees to work this month.
Michigan, a major industrial power in the Midwest, severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its economic impacts, is the latest among a group of states that was to allow stalled assembly lines to be restarted after mandatory closings.
But in announcing plans last week to reopen industrialisation, Gretchen Whitmer, the state governor and Democrat, extended the lockdown that requires residents to stay indoors, with the exception of outings such as grocery shopping, doctor visits, and limited entertainment.
Whitmer, seen as the running mate of potential Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, was an early target of protests across the state organised by Republican President Donald Trump's supporters demanding an end to the closure.
Michigan, a critical electoral swing state that backed Trump in 2016, has lost more than 4,550 people due to the coronavirus. So far nearly 80,000 people in the United States have died from the virus from about 1.3 million infections since January 20.
The reluctance to reopen factories in Michigan has also hampered efforts to reassemble vehicles elsewhere in the United States because major auto parts suppliers are located in and around the auto industry center in Detroit, Michigan.
Whitmer declined to give the green light to open factories, while Republican Governor Mike DeWine in neighboring Ohio, also a key player in the auto industry, said he had allowed manufacturing to resume there last Monday. California followed suit on Friday.
The government of Mexico, another important link in the auto production chain in North America, is expected to announce its plans for the industry this week.
The auto sector accounts for 6% of US economic output, with more than 835,000 Americans working on auto production.