As their massive plants that otherwise produce iconic American automobiles sit idled, U.S. automakers are going all in against Coronavirus. For its part, Ford Motor Company began producing transparent face shields and respirators to combat medical supply shortages. Meanwhile, FCA will produce face masks “in the coming weeks.” And General Motors has announced that it will make ventilators in collaboration with Ventec Life Systems, and has added that it will begin production of level 1 surgical masks next week.
GM will produce these much-needed masks in an idled facility Warren, Michigan. In terms of output, America’s largest automaker says they will initially produce 50,000 per week, but may have the capability to bump that up to 100,000 per week. Production will depend on the availability of materials, and GM will work with suppliers and the government to send out masks where most helpful.
The ventilators are a much larger project, however. GM is partnering with Ventec Life Systems to build their VOCSN ventilators. Tooling set up is already underway at GM’s Kokomo, Indiana factory, with production and deliveries expected next month. The timeline has drawn the ire of President Donald Trump, who recently lambasted GM and CEO Mary Barra.
As usual with “this” General Motors, things just never seem to work out. They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed Ventilators, “very quickly”. Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar. Always a mess with Mary B. Invoke “P”.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2020
Despite General Motors and Ventec working on producing ventilators, the president invoked the Defense Production Act to mandate that they project is completed. It’s been reported that FEMA pulled back from a deal with GM-Ventec after the companies asked for a $1.5 billion contract. While the number is indeed large enough to fund an entire vehicle program, GM has officially stated that it will be building ventilators “at cost.”
In a recent interview with NBC, Chris Kiple, the CEO of Seattle-based Ventec Life Systems said that the company “provided the government with a range of options, ranging from a thousand units a month to 21,000 units a month and a whole host of pricing that went with that.” Kiple said that the company “gave the government a menu of options to present to and just tried to respond to their request for information to say how many can you produce and how fast.”
In other words, the two companies couldn’t agree with the government on price, and therefore Trump invoked the DPA to compel them to produce the ventilators.
When at full capacity, the Kokomo plant will produce more than 10,000 ventilators per month. A 1,000 strong GM workforce will return to work to make this happen. UAW worked with GM to allow workers to return.
The Ventec VOCSN model that GM is going to produce is the first and only multifunction ventilator on the market since the FDA cleared it in 2017. The ventilator combines 5 critical life features into one device. Those features are typically separate machines.
GM producing ventilators provides a great balance to Ford’s respirator production. Both are necessary, but very different machines in the Coronavirus fight. Ventilators are used to help patients breath, whereas respirators filter the air, typically for medical professionals. It’s unclear if it was intentional for Ford and GM to each produce one of the machines, but they were in talks with the U.S. government. It’s possible that the Trump administration asked each auto giant to produce a different machine to help both shortages. No matter what, they will help the nation tremendously.