General Motors Becomes First US Automaker Committed to Ventilator Production Ramp-Up

All of America's carmakers are "exploring" how to increase ventilator supply, though GM now has a confirmed path forward.

As hospitals swamped with COVID-19 cases struggle to supply enough ventilators to patients, automakers the world over have volunteered to “explore” ways that’ll pump up supply of the vital medical apparatus. General Motors became the first American automaker to graduate from this exploratory phase on Friday when it announced that it would offer its infrastructure to Ventec Life Systems, accelerating the ventilator production ramp-up.

“Ventec will leverage GM’s logistics, purchasing, and manufacturing expertise to build more of their critically important ventilators,” stated the two companies in a release.

“We are working closely with Ventec to rapidly scale up production of their critically important respiratory products to support our country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” commented GM CEO Mary Barra. “We will continue to explore ways to help in this time of crisis.”

“With GM’s help, Ventec will increase ventilator production,” added Ventec Life Systems CEO Chris Kiple. “By tapping their expertise, GM is enabling us to get more ventilators to more hospitals much faster. This partnership will help save lives.”

It’s currently unclear exactly where these ventilators will be built, or if United Auto Workers members will assist in their production. The initiative was announced just one day after President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, which was put into effect to obtain health and medical resources needed to respond to the coronavirus, as Automotive News points out.

A Ventec ventilator being assembled., Ventec via YouTube

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Company acknowledged to Fox 2 Detroit that it has had “preliminary discussions” with both the American and British governments about supplying ventilators, and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been in similar talks with Italian authorities. President Donald Trump urged the former along with GM and Tesla to “make ventilators and other metal products” as soon as possible, though experts have questioned whether automakers themselves can do much to combat the ventilator shortage.

A former industrial planner from the Bush administration told The Washington Post that it could easily take 18 months for an automaker to set up tooling to produce ventilators at scale, which could explain why GM offered its help to an existing medical equipment supplier rather than rework its own production lines. Some carmakers could utilize their prototyping shops’ 3D printers to prepare components; Volkswagen told Reuters it has 125 commercial printers that could be used to supply ventilator parts. However, automakers without such facilities can still pitch contribute to the cause by making masks en masse, as China’s BYD says it has done.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk says the automaker, along with SpaceX, is “working on” ventilators, though he thinks they “probably won’t be needed.” 

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