Weekly Brief: Carmakers’ Switch to Respirator Production Gives Us All Hope

A week after shutting down their manufacturing operations owing to the coronavirus pandemic, many carmakers found themselves planning to re-open their factories last week.

However, this time they plan to help produce respirators and ventilators for critically ill COVID-19 patients. Elon Musk announced that Tesla’s solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York, “will reopen for ventilator production as soon as humanly possible”. Tesla has partnered with medical device maker Medtronic to help it expand production capacity of its PB 980 ventilator. Musk also personally purchased more than 1,000 ventilators from China and donated them to hospitals in the US.

The Tesla-Metronic partnership is one of many unusual alliances forged in the face of an intensifying global pandemic. Ford announced last week that it is working with a number of partners, including 3M, GE Healthcare and UAW, to help produce ventilators and respirators for healthcare workers.

Toyota has started 3-D printing face shields for health workers at its North American factories and is looking for partners to help produce ventilators and respirators. Also, General Motors and Vantec Life Systems are working together to manufacture ventilators at GM’s factory in Kokomo, Indiana. The price tag of that operation resulted in a spat between GM and President Trump last week, which led Trump to apply pressure through his favorite means of communication, Twitter.

“General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!  FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!” Trump eventually invoked the Defense Production Act to force GM to start producing ventilators straight away — something he could have done months ago had he listened to the recommendations of the health experts around him.

Meanwhile in the UK, where experts estimate that hospitals will need 30,000 additional ventilators, Nissan has now partnered with Formula 1 racing team McLaren and aerospace engineering firm Meggitt to help produce ventilators. With systems expertise from Meggitt, McLaren will design and refine components and pass them onto Nissan for mass production. In Italy Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler, both owned by Exor, are in negotiations to help Italian medical device company Siare Engineering to more than triple its ventilator production each month. Tier 1 supplier Magneti Marelli will likely assist in production.

These unconventional partnerships speak to what a singularly strange and sobering time this is. About a third of the global human population is now sheltering in place or locked down at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. That’s more than 3Bn people cut off from their daily jobs and their usual routines – the restaurants and bars they frequent, the streets and subways they travel, the friends and family with whom they socialize. Local, national and global economies have screeched to a halt. All carmakers in North America and Europe have shuttered their factories, save for those that have now been reopened for making medical devices. New car sales have plummeted. New car debuts have been postponed or moved online. Car shows have been canceled for the foreseeable future and the prestigious 2020 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, planned for its new date in June, has just been cancelled and the site turned over to assist as a field hospital.

Will any of this ever return? Of course it will, eventually, although for the time being it’s best to keep our minds focused on what matters most: each other, our families, our parents and our children, maintaining our distance and minimizing our grocery runs. If we do that, with a bit of luck, we’ll be flying down an open road with the top down and the breeze in our faces before we know it.


One comment

  1. Avatar Massimo Plavsic 30th March 2020 @ 6:35 pm

    So automotive is able to demonstrate that not only cars are important but first of all it’s the people that are customers and owners. Never surrender.

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