- General Motors and Ford both shut down North American manufacturing about two weeks ago and also announced plans to help make critically needed ventilators to fight the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
- President Donald Trump attacked GM last Friday for not moving fast enough, but the company is actually in the process of converting a facility in Indiana for Ventec Life Systems to use.
- GM and Ventec expect to be able produce 10,000 ventilators per week when operations fully gear up.
- Ford is looking at its supply chain to locate parts that General Electric could use to increase ventilators manufacturing.
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The past two weeks have been the biggest for the US auto industry in terms of its production capability and efforts to fight a national threat since World War II.
In the span of just a few days during the week of March 16, General Motors and Ford, along with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, all shut down North American vehicle production (that spans the US, Canada, and Mexico). This had never happened before in the century-plus history of car-making.
Both GM and Ford announced that they were working with ventilator manufacturers to increase the supply of these critically-needed medical devices to fight the intensifying COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
GM is working with Ventec Life Systems, and Ford is working with General Electric
General Motors said it had partnered with Washington-based Ventec Life Systems, and Ford joined with GE Healthcare.
GM’s effort could help Ventec produce 10,000 ventilators per month, using a retooled GM electronics factory in Indiana.
For its part, Ford and General Electric want to greatly increase production of what GE described as a simplified ventilator.
Both carmakers are also repurposing existing manufacturing facilities to make medical face shields, respirators, and face masks.
Last Friday, the Trump administration used the Defence Production, a piece of Korean War-era legislation, to compel GM to use its facilities to make ventilators. President Donald Trump attacked the company and CEO Mary Barra on Twitter, seemingly out of frustration that a planned announcement with FEMA wasn’t happening quickly enough.
Ventilators aren’t automobiles
Trump invoked a political battle from 2018-19 in demanding that GM reclaim an Ohio factory that it had idled in 2018 and later sold in 2019 to an electric-vehicle manufacturer, and use that plant to make ventilators.
But ventilators aren’t cars, and it’s unclear whether GM could have taken a factory full of huge industrial robots and elaborate moving assembly lines and rapidly transformed it into a facility for making intricate medical equipment. The factory that GM is converting actually looks more like an office building than a car plant.
Regardless, the actual production of the ventilators is Ventec’s area, not GM’s. The situation is similar for Ford, which has been looking at its supply chain to locate currently used parts that GE Healthcare could use in the making of its ventilators.
Ford and GE haven’t provided a timeline for when they might be able to scale up ventilator production.
On balance, Detroit has pushed into ventilator manufacturing about as fast as is plausible, especially given that GM and Ford have been simultaneously suspending all vehicle-making operations.
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