Ford will delay until next summer the launch of one of its most eagerly awaited new products, the Bronco SUV, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the automaker announced.

Like other automotive manufacturers, Ford has faced serious challenges keeping its factories running smoothly during the pandemic, and said the delay in the launch of the Bronco is the result of “Covid-19-related challenges our suppliers are experiencing.”

Separately, the second-largest of the Detroit automakers informed contract workers on Friday that they would have their commitments terminated by the end of the year. Ford has relied on contractors to flesh out its staff, particularly in its engineering departments. The company would not disclose how many of the workers will be impacted.

The 2021 model-year is a big one for Ford, with the automaker launching four major product lines including the all-new Mustang Mach-E battery-electric vehicle, a complete makeover of the F-150 pickup truck, and two different SUVs sharing the Bronco name.

A small version, the Mexican-made Bronco Sport, began being rolling into dealer showrooms late last month. A bigger SUV, simply called Bronco, was to have been launched next spring. That model now will be pushed back to summer.

A classic off-roader, it will be offered both in two- and four-door forms and is aimed to compete with products like the Jeep Wrangler and new Land Rover Defender.

The Bronco will be manufactured at the Michigan Assembly Plant, a half-hour west of Detroit. Like all Ford factories, the facility has undergone a number of steps meant to prevent the spread of Covid-19 on the shop floor. But it has faced challenges at times due to disruptions in the network of hundreds of suppliers shipping critical parts to the factory.

“The all-new Bronco two-door and four-door customer deliveries will begin in the summer rather than the spring due to Covid-related challenges our suppliers are experiencing,” Ford said in a statement. “We are committed to building Broncos with the quality our customers expect and deserve.”

Ford would not comment on the precise nature of the problem delaying the Bronco rollout, but the Detroit Free Press reported that it involves the Bronco’s removable top.

The decision to delay the SUV’s launch came just eight hours after Ford’s product development chief Hau Thai-Tang, told virtual participants in the Goldman Sachs Global Automotive Conference that “the Bronco is on track to launch in spring.”

It reflects the fluidity of the situation across the automotive industry as it tries to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

The two-month shutdown of North American automotive manufacturing is still reverberating throughout the industry, with automakers collectively short of inventory in a number of key product segments, especially pickups and SUVs.

“One of our local dealers normally has 700 to 800 vehicles in inventory,” Tim Jackson, head of the Colorado Auto Dealers Association, told NBC News in a telephone interview. “He recently has had as little as 70 to 80 on the ground.”

Complicating matters, factories occasionally must stop operations and sanitize when workers are found to be infected. The situation is particularly problematic for smaller suppliers who may not have the resources to put in place the pandemic protection procedures used at big assembly plants.

Regional lockdowns in Mexico in recent months have played particular havoc on production schedules. Last month, General Motors had to cancel a weekend of work at its big SUV plant in Arlington, Texas, while also shutting down its Chevrolet Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky for several days due to parts shortages.

The pandemic has hammered the industry on a financial level, though manufacturers did rebound slightly during the third quarter, as U.S. production and sales started to return. But the crisis has spurred companies like Ford to implement cost-cutting measures.

The automaker on Friday told contract workers that they are being terminated immediately — few, if any, expected to receive severance or other benefits. Ford would not disclose details, such as how many contractors are being impacted and whether any will be retained. Contract workers have been dropped by all three of the Detroit automakers in the past several years due to cost-cutting measures.

At the same time, Ford said it is ending a buyout program for salaried workers that had been launched by recently retired CEO Jim Hackett. The automaker would not say whether further job cuts could follow under new CEO Jim Farley.

By ev3v4hn