Car manufacturers redirect resources toward respirator and ventilator production
The coronavirus pandemic has upended the lives of untold hundreds of millions of people around the world, as well as the entire global economy. Those who can are working from home to abide by recommended social distancing practices. Many automakers have suspended their manufacturing operations in the wake of the outbreak. Now, amidst the worldwide demand for essential medical equipment such as N95 masks, respirators, and ventilators, a number of OEMs are stepping up to help stem the tide of the pandemic.
Through its light-vehicle operation in China, SAIC-GM-Wuling, General Motors is helping build machines that produce face masks, as well as manufacturing the masks at SAIC-GM-Wuling’s plant. In addition, General Motors is working with Ventec Life Systems to help the latter company “scale up production,” according to GM CEO Mary Barra, of “critically needed” ventilators. Ford, in an endeavor called “Project Apollo,” according to Automotive News, is teaming up with General Electric and 3M to build respirators, ventilators, and face masks.
Ford’s assistance will help 3M build many more respirators, while the Blue Oval is also planning to produce its own units. The Ford respirators will be built at Ford’s advanced manufacturing center in Redford, Michigan, utilizing a “makeshift” design that combines F-150 seat fans, hoods sourced from factory paint shops, portable tool batteries, and other 3D-printed parts. Ford told AN that its help would help 3M increase its respirator production by ten times, with the process slated to kick off in just days or weeks. Ford will also manufacture as many as 100,000 face masks each week out of Plymouth, Michigan-based Troy Design and Manufacturing. With GE Healthcare, Ford is planning to increase ventilator production using a simplified design, potentially using UAW workers.
Fiat Chrysler is manufacturing more than 1 million face masks per month, according to a company press release, starting this week. The masks will be donated to police, EMTs, firefighters, and healthcare workers in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. FCA says it will announce additional measures in the days ahead.
Nissan and McLaren, operating alongside aerospace manufacturers led by Meggitt, are developing a prototype ventilator, according to the Financial Times. Other aerospace companies, including engine builder Rolls-Royce, are interested in joining the effort as well.
Tesla chief Elon Musk purchased a 1255-unit oversupply of Chinese ventilators and shipped them to Los Angeles, according to his Twitter account. Williams Advanced Engineering is donating 3M face masks to an Oxford, U.K., hospital, while Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus is in the process of developing a prototype reusable face mask and working with Amazon on distribution. Autoweek reports that Glickenhaus is also offering his Connecticut factory as a temporary hospital if the nearby Danbury Hospital needs the capacity.
In addition to manufacturing efforts, automakers are implementing a variety of other measures to adapt to the ever-changing situation. Genesis, for example, is offering up to 90 days of payment extensions for customers affected by COVID-19-related job loss who financed or leased a vehicle through Genesis Finance. Genesis is also allowing customers to extend leases for six months. Bill Ford, Executive Chairman of Ford, will defer 100 percent of his salary for “at least the next five months,” according to Automotive News. All of Ford’s top 300 executives will defer between 20 and 50 percent of their salaries, including CEO Jim Hackett, CFO Tom Stone, and COO Jim Farley, who will all defer 50 percent.
It’s wonderful to see the automotive community come together to help mitigate the fallout of this public health crisis. If you have any N95 masks in stock at home or at your business, please consider donating them to a local hospital or health care facility.