GM, Ford are in talks to build medical ventilators for coronavirus fight

The Arsenal of Democracy could be called back into action

WASHINGTON — General Motors and Ford said on Wednesday they were in talks with White House officials about how they could support production of medical equipment like ventilators that may be needed to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra spoke to White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow about the issue after the Detroit automaker announced it will suspend North American production through March 30. Kudlow told Fox News on Wednesday that he had spoken to one automaker looking at producing ventilators.

GM spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan said the automaker "is working to help find solutions for the nation during this difficult time and has offered to help, and we are already studying how we can potentially support production of medical equipment like ventilators."

Ford said on Wednesday it "stands ready to help the administration in any way we can, including the possibility of producing ventilators and other equipment. We have had preliminary discussions with the U.S. government and are looking into the feasibility."

President Trump on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act, which could be used to compel manufacturers to make ventilators and other medical equipment to fight the pandemic. During World War II, GM, Ford and other automakers retooled auto plants to build tanks, planes and other military equipment and weapons, earning Detroit the nickname the "Arsenal of Democracy."

Earlier this week, Britain asked manufacturers including Ford, Honda and Rolls Royce to help make health equipment including ventilators and said it will look at using hotels as hospitals.

Kudlow praised the idea of autoworkers producing medical equipment when plans were idled. "That's the kind of can-do spirit that we are hearing and seeing," Kudlow said.

GM and Ford could face significant hurdles before it could build a complex piece of medical equipment like a ventilator, and it is unclear how long it would take to do so.

Countries around the world have raised concerns about potential shortages of the ventilators needed to treat critically ill patients suffering from coronavirus. Running in the thousands of dollars per unit, ventilators are used to help people with respiratory difficulties to breathe.

As the coronavirus spread across China in February, a number of manufacturers in China including Apple partner Foxconn and SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile Co Ltd, a joint venture automaker formed by GM and two Chinese partners, said they had set up production lines to make masks and medical clothing.

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