Detroit’s two largest automakers, General Motors and Ford, are tooling up production for medical devices critically needed in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, notably ventilators and respirators.
At the same time, Fiat Chrysler is ramping up production of masks for health-care providers and others on the front line, while Tesla has acquired more than 1,200 ventilators from China and is shipping them to the U.S.
“We were the arsenal of democracy during two world wars,” Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr. said during an appearance on the “Today Show” Tuesday morning. “We built iron lungs for polio patients. Whenever we’re called on, we’re there.”
Both Ford and GM reached out to the White House last week to offer assistance in the fight against the coronavirus, both suggesting they could use their manufacturing expertise to address shortages of critically needed gear.
As part of what it is calling “Project Apollo,” Ford will work with 3M, a major supplier of respirators to boost that company’s existing production capacity. Ford also will set up a makeshift operation of its own to produce a simplified respirator design at its advanced manufacturing center in Redford, Michigan, a few miles from its corporate headquarters.
During an appearance on CBS This Morning on Tuesday, Ford CEO Jim Hackett announced a second partnership, this one with GE Healthcare to expand production of ventilators. As with 3M, Ford hopes to help GE boost its internal capacity. Ford also has come up with a simplified ventilator design it plans to start producing at one of its own factories. Hackett said the automaker aims to have production ramped up to roll out “hundreds of thousands” of ventilators by June.
Across town, GM has launched its own effort, “Project V,” allying with Seattle’s Ventic Life Systems, another major producer of ventilators. GM will assist Ventec in boosting internal production capacity while also setting up a ventilator assembly operation in Kokomo, Indiana, at one of its electronic component plants. The factory works with smaller parts and components, a company official explained, making it more suitable than an assembly plant for working on devices like ventilators.
According to a report by the Reuters news service, GM hopes to produce as many as 200,000 of the devices once it gets things rolling. In a letter sent to suppliers by global purchasing chief Shilpan Amin, the automaker said it has found sources for 95% of the parts it will need and is now hunting down the remaining 37 parts.
Gearing up to build relatively complex devices like respirators and ventilators could still take time, but automakers are already hard at work producing some other much-needed medical supplies. Ford spokesman Michael Levine told TheDetroitBureau.com Tuesday that the first 1,000 face shields it has produced were delivered to local Detroit-area hospitals and it plans to have 100,000 ready by next week.
FCA expects to begin producing face masks this week, CEO Mike Manley saying production will quickly ramp up to 1 million a month, with plans to donate them to hospitals and other medical centers, as well as police, firefighters and EMS crews.
“Protecting our first responders and health care workers has never been more important,” said Manley in a statement. “We’ve marshaled the resources of the FCA Group to focus immediately on installing production capacity for making masks and supporting those most in need on the front line of this pandemic.”
Tesla, meanwhile, has indicated it will enter the fight, though it has been vague about whether it will produce any medical supplies in-house.
“China had an oversupply, so we bought 1255 FDA-approved ResMed, Philips & Medtronic ventilators on Friday night & airshipped them to LA,” CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday he has been advised Tesla will provide 1,000 ventilators to the state. Tesla has also promised to donate more than 200,000 M95 masks to hospitals.