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Coronavirus: Car manufacturers to produce ventilators after government calls for help

Fiat, Nissan, General Motors and Ford all pledge to lend assistance in tackling Covid-19

Samuel Lovett
Tuesday 24 March 2020 10:45 GMT
Boris Johnson announces nationwide lockdown to tackle coronavirus

Car manufacturers across the world have started converting their plants to produce ventilators and face masks after governments called for help in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Fiat, Nissan, General Motors and Ford are among those whose have pledged to offer support, with other major car firms looking to lend their assistance where possible.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced on Monday that it plans to manufacture one million face masks a month and donate the critical protective equipment to first responders and healthcare workers.

“We’ve marshalled the resources of the FCA Group to focus immediately on installing production capacity for making masks and supporting those most in need on the front line of this pandemic,” CEO Mike Manley said in a statement.

The car firm is set to repurpose one of its factories in China to start making the masks.

This follows a plea made last week by vice president Mike Pence for construction companies to donate their stocks of N95 respirator masks to hospitals amid a nationwide shortage.

Other car companies such as GM, Ford and Tesla have begun turning their resources to designing and manufacturing ventilators.

GM announced on Friday that it is working with Ventec Life Systems, a US ventilator manufacturer, to help increase nationwide production, while Tesla CEO Elon Musk has pledged to help New York meet its rising demand for the medical device, which helps critically ill patients to breathe.

On Sunday, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Ford, General Motors and Tesla are being given the go ahead to make ventilators and other metal products, FAST! Go for it auto execs, let’s see how good you are?”

The Mahindra Group, one of the world’s largest tractor makers and India’s biggest electric vehicle manufacturer, has said it is assessing the feasibility of producing the ventilators at its factories.

In Britain, Vauxhall, Airbus and Rolls-Royce are similarly looking to help the national cause.

Jeremy Townsend, a spokesman for automaker Vauxhall, said: “We are keen to assist at Vauxhall Motor’s Ellesmere Port plant. Once we have more details on the requirements, we will be able to analyze what we can do.”

A number of UK-based Formula One teams, including McLaren and Williams, have also mobilised their workforces with the aim of finding “a tangible outcome” in producing ventilators for the NHS.

“We are fully focused on the project,” McLaren said in a statement on its website.

After the suspension of the racing season due to the global outbreak of coronavirus, the F1 teams were set to slow down productions at their factories but will now refocus their energies on providing vital medical equipment.

The initiative is being overseen by former Williams and Renault chief engineer Pat Symonds, now chief technical officer of F1’s motorsport division, who is leading the discussions with teams, medical suppliers and the UK government.

The NHS currently has just over 8,000 ventilators but prime minister Boris Johnson has said at least a further 20,000 will be needed, while the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) has called on suppliers to build “as many as they can”.

The DHSC also said it is “working closely” with a number of companies across the private sector “in a major national effort” to boost coronavirus testing capacity among the population.

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