- GM and Ford have already talked to the U.S. government about how they can help.
- Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has tweeted that his companies would help build ventilators if there are shortages.
- It’s unlikely any automakers would be building entire ventilators on their own but instead would be helping established medical equipment manufacturers.
As automakers are spinning down some of their factories because of the coronavirus situation, some are considering working on medical supplies to help combat shortages of vital equipment.
Both General Motors and Ford have stated they are considering building ventilators and other equipment. GM CEO Mary Barra has met with the Trump administration, and Ford is in initial talks with both the U.S. and U.K governments. Both companies have recently stopped or slowed the production of vehicles at their plants here and abroad.
Building vital medical equipment would help hospitals desperate for supplies and put automaker workforces back on the line. GM, for its part, said it is studying what its capacity is to help. Ventilator manufacturers already have their own supply chains, designs, and more important, certification processes. The automaker is figuring out where in that process and what point in the system it can assist those companies.
“That’s the focus. It’s early and it’s fluid, and we’re trying to look at it from soup to nuts where we might be able to fit in. You don’t just flick a switch and have ventilators ready to go. We’ll help absolutely where we can,” GM spokesperson Jim Cain told Car and Driver.
Ford is looking globally and says that it has spoken with U.S. and U.K. officials to see if the automaker’s production of medical equipment is feasible.
“As America’s largest producer of vehicles and top employer of autoworkers, Ford stands ready to help the administration in any way we can, including the possibility of producing ventilators and other equipment,” Ford spokesperson Rachel McCleery told Automotive News.
On Twitter, Tesla and Space-X CEO Elon Musk tweeted that “we will make ventilators if there’s a shortage.” He then replied to a tweet from FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver that “Ventilators are not difficult, cannot be produced instantly. Which hospitals have these shortages you speak of right now.”
That prompted a response from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio that New York City is buying and that the city is reaching out to Musk directly. Press secretary Freddi Goldstein told Car and Driver, “We have reached out to the person who runs Musk’s family office, his communications director and his lobbyist. Given his response on Twitter, we’re hopeful he will be able to help.”
Musk posted a reply via Twitter saying “Sounds good, we will connect with your team to understand potential needs.”
Car and Driver has contacted Tesla about these tweets and have not heard back as of press time.
If any of these companies want to help, they should try to expedite the process. As The New York Times reports, hospitals all over the world are facing a shortage of ventilators. The machines can cost up to $50,000, and the companies that make them can’t keep up with demand. Hamilton Medical in Switzerland has hired new employees and pulled office staff onto the production floor to increase output. But it’s still not enough. “Italy wanted to order 4000, but there’s not a chance,” CEO Andreas Wieland told The Times. “We sent them something like 400.”
Wired reports that Airon Corporation, a small ventilator maker in Florida, was selling about 50 machines a month before the pandemic. Now it’s being asked by a distributor in California to build 700. CEO Eric Gjerde said it only has so many parts on hand and added, “Making ventilators is not a trivial process.”
In Italy, where the pandemic has the entire country on lockdown, Reuters reports that Fiat and Ferrari are in talks with medical device manufacturer Siare Engineering to help bolster output. The automakers, both owned by Exor, could help with sourcing parts, increase output at Exor plants, or take on the production of parts needed for ventilator construction.
A spokesperson for Exor indicated that a decision on how the two companies could help is expected in the coming hours.
The United States has about 160,000 ventilators and an additional 12,700 in the National Strategic Stockpile, according to The New York Times. That won’t be enough if cases continue to grow. For some companies, it could take months to increase production to keep up with demand.
COVID-19 attacks the lungs and makes breathing difficult. In some cases, a ventilator will have to do the breathing for the patient. Without it, they could perish. Seeing automakers step up to try to help the best they can is outstanding. It’s unlikely we’ll see Ford, GM, or Tesla producing entire ventilators at their factories anytime soon. But any help they can offer, even it’s just building parts that are in short supply and offering up manpower, will be appreciated.