Mike Levine/Ford via Twitter
- Many automakers have already stepped up to the challenge of supplying medical equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Ventilators and N95 masks are at the top of the list of urgently needed medical supplies, and companies including Ford, GM, Subaru, and Tesla are figuring out ways to supply some.
- Meanwhile, President Trump could choose to use the powers of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to require manufacturers to do this work on behalf of the country—but at least in the case of the auto industry, it may not be necessary.
Trump invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) on March 18, but according to a tweet sent this morning has yet to use its powers because companies are already stepping up. That includes automakers that have been working with hospitals, states, and medical device manufacturers to help resupply medical staff with the masks and ventilators they need to combat the coronavirus.
The Defense Production Act gives the president authorization to require businesses to sign contracts and fulfill orders for items the administration has decided is necessary for the country’s national defense. It also gives the president the authority to make sure important materials are not subject to hoarding or price gouging. Finally, the act gives the president control over the economy to ensure critical items needed for national defense are available.
The act was originally used during the Korean War and has seen sporadic use over the years to spur innovation and combat espionage.
Meanwhile, automakers and other companies have been donating supplies and working with ventilator manufacturers to help speed up the production of the much-needed devices.
Ford’s executive chairman Bill Ford appeared on the Today Show to announce that the company is working with 3M and GE to speed up the production of masks, face shields, respirators, and ventilators. The automaker said that it’s working with 3M to build a new type of powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) for health-care workers while also helping 3M increase production of the current model.
Ford spokesperson Mike Levine posted a drawing of the new respirator design on Twitter, noting that one concept uses the seat fan from an F-150 (pictured above).
Ford is also working with GE to help speed the production of ventilators. GM is currently working with medical manufacturing company Ventec to help speed up ventilator production either by helping with supplies, building parts, or potentially producing ventilators at its Kokomo, Indiana, plant. The two companies are hoping the partnership yields 200,000 ventilators.
For its part Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has announced that one of its plants in China will be converted to make masks for health-care workers. N95 masks are currently in short supply and are supposed to be used only once. Some hospitals have had to reuse the masks ,sometimes over multiple days, to deal with the rise of potential coronavirus patients.
Tesla is already helping hospitals. UCLA Health tweeted that medical supplies from 3M were donated by Tesla. From the image, it looks like at least four pallets arrived on March 22. Tesla replied that it was sending masks and more supplies to as many hospitals as possible. This is in addition to CEO Elon Musk’s donation of more than 1000 ventilators sourced from China. The FDA-approved devices are from ResMed, Philips, and Medtronic.
Those who keep an eye on Musk’s Twitter feed might recognize that last company. The CEO said that he was talking with Medtronic about its ventilators on March 21. We’ve reached out to Tesla about how those discussions are coming along and will update this article if we hear back.
At the direction of Tom Doll, president and CEO of Subaru of America, the automaker donated 120 N95 masks to Virtua Health in New Jersey and other hospitals, sourced from the automaker’s training centers.
Volkswagen Group of America spokesperson Micahel Tolbert told Car and Driver that the company is exploring all avenues to help without giving specifics yet.
It’s not just automakers that are helping. Anyone who has turned a wrench has spent time in a Harbor Freight Tools. The company announced that it will be donating its inventory of N95 masks and gloves to hospitals with 24-hour emergency rooms near its more than 1000 retail locations.
Even without Trump using DPA, automakers and other manufacturing sectors are already working on items necessary for the country to battle the coronavirus. If the president does use the powers, how that plays out in relation to what many of the auto industry are already doing is yet to be seen.