Cleveland, Ohio – As COVID-19 spreads in the United States, automakers have already halted production at most U.S. plants and offered to aid governments in supplying emergency medical equipment. The following are updates from the past several days.
General Motors partners with Ventec Life Systems for ventilator production
Ford, General Motors (GM), and Tesla have all offered to convert shuttered auto plants to produce ventilators and other medical equipment that health experts expect to be in short supply as the coronavirus spreads, but most of those offers had been limited to general willingness to help.
The partnership with Ventec, however, shows how automakers can help in the short term without retooling plants. Ventec will tap into GM’s vast purchasing, logistics, and manufacturing know-how to boost production of its existing lines of ventilators. GM won’t be producing the devices directly, but officials will aid the medical device company in its efforts to rush more machines to market.
“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,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “We will continue to explore ways to help in this time of crisis.”
Ventec Life Systems CEO Chris Kiple put it simply, “This partnership will help save lives.”
The partnership with GM came from stopthespread.org, a non-profit set up by large businesses in health care and finance less than a week ago to help coordinate Corporate America’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Officials with other automakers said they’re also looking for opportunities to aid the disease-fighting efforts. With most auto plants closed to normal production, there is plenty of manufacturing space and available employees to make parts or assemble systems – if automakers and suppliers can find partners with medical expertise.
Tesla to shut down California production
Electric vehicle (EV) automaker Tesla had so far resisted calls to stop production, despite being in one of the California counties under a shelter-in-place order last week. That shelter-in-place order spread to the rest of California on Friday, and local officials had been pressuring the company to cease production to keep employees apart, limiting the potential spread of the virus.
However, Tesla officials said keeping the plant open had become a hardship on its employees and suppliers, given the large number of support businesses that were shutting down.
“We have decided to temporarily suspend production at our factory in Fremont, from end of day March 23, which will allow an orderly shutdown,” Tesla officials said, offering no expected restart date. “Our factory in New York will temporarily suspend production as well, except for those parts and supplies necessary for service, infrastructure, and critical supply chains. Operations of our others facilities will continue, including Nevada and our service and Supercharging network.”
On Twitter Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company is ready to produce ventilators, but he has also questioned the need to do so.
Toyota extends its shutdown
While Toyota had joined Detroit’s automakers in announcing plans to pause production starting this week, it had initially pledged to be back to normal operations by Wednesday. Late last week, Toyota officials extended that down period until April 6, making it a two-week shutdown instead of a two-day one.
Volkswagen shutting down Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant
VW shut down its U.S. plant on Saturday and plans to keep it closed until March 29, using that week to clean and establish new hygiene protocols at the plant.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and Today's eMobility and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 20 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.