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GM, Tesla, Ford offer to make ventilators to soothe coronavirus shortages

Several automakers offered today to turn their manufacturing expertise toward helping alleviate medical device shortages as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to overload hospitals. GM, Tesla, and Ford were among those who offered help in the US.

We’re tracking EV plant shutdowns across the globe, with news coming in every day about plants being shuttered.

But while these plants are partially shut down, they may find some “essential operations” that they could help with, in the form of medical devices.

COVID-19 has resulted in hospital overloads in affected countries. In China and Italy, the two hardest-hit countries yet, health systems broke down, which resulted in hospitals engaging in denying care through triage operations and doing risky things like sharing ventilators between multiple patients. The coronavirus attacks the respiratory system, and hospitalized patients need ventilators that are running in short supply in highly affected areas.

That short supply may provide an opportunity for automakers to utilize their shut-down factory space for the public good.

Wednesday afternoon, GM CEO Mary Barra offered to use empty factory space in a “WWII-style mobilization” to make ventilators for hospitals that are running short. That idea made its way to Tesla CEO Elon Musk tonight, who stated that Tesla “will make ventilators if there is a shortage.” When prodded further, he elaborated:

Tesla makes cars with sophisticated HVAC systems. SpaceX makes spacecraft with life support systems. Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly. Which hospitals have these shortages you speak of right now?

Update: Since the offer, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reached out to Musk to discuss their urgent need for ventilators.  The city reportedly has not yet heard back from Musk.

Ford also offered their help, stating:

As America’s largest producer of vehicles and top employer of autoworkers, Ford stands ready to help the administration in any way we can, including the possibility of producing ventilators and other equipment.

Similar events have transpired in the UK, with the British government asking automakers to help build ventilators there. Ford is considering how it could help, and Jaguar and Toyota have both offered help in response to the UK’s request.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been developing quickly with many new cases every day. In just the last day there have been roughly 20,000 more confirmed cases in the world and nearly 1,000 new deaths. Several thousand new cases developed in the US since just Wednesday afternoon, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

In response, governments have put big restrictions on individuals and businesses in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. Some companies have also taken their own steps to have employees work from home or go to partial operations until things die down.

Tesla and GM have both been caught in the middle of these shutdowns. Both companies had big plans for their EV factories this week, with GM retooling their Detroit-Hamtramck plant for EVs, and Tesla just starting deliveries of the highly anticipated Model Y this week. Neither wanted to interrupt those plans, but the spread of the virus has imposed other plans upon them.

In the last two days, Tesla has been going back and forth with local authorities in the San Francisco Bay Area, where their Fremont factory is located, about whether or not the factory would remain open. That seems to have come to a conclusion today, with Tesla agreeing to reduce to 1/4 workforce for “essential operations,” which notably cannot include making vehicles. Alameda County Sheriff has promised action if Tesla does not comply with this order.

And GM has been in the process of retooling their plant, which they only just started this week. However, some factory workers commented that they “feel like the band that keeps playing as the Titanic is sinking”.

But Wednesday, the “Big Three” automakers announced that they will shut down all their US plants. We don’t yet know the specifics of which operations will continue at these plants, though hopefully some of those operations involve ventilators.

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Avatar for Jameson Dow Jameson Dow

Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for since 2016.

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