March 18, 2019

General Motors is studying whether to retool its shuttered production lines to make ventilators and other needed medical equipment to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, company officials said Wednesday.

GM CEO Mary Barra was in contact with administration officials on Wednesday updating them on a decision to suspend production for the rest of the month.

“She also indicated GM 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,” a GM spokesperson told POLITICO.

The U.S. faces a shortage of life-saving ventilators if patients infected with Covid-19, a respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, overwhelm U.S. hospitals.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act, which will allow him to direct domestic manufacturers to produce medical supplies and other necessary items during the crisis.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Wednesday that he was in touch with leaders of two of the three major U.S. automakers. Ford and Fiat Chrysler also said they would suspend production of automobiles until at least March 30.

“One of them told me that even though the men and women may be off for two weeks due to the virus, she’s going to try to call them back so they can produce ventilators,” Kudlow said on Fox News, in an apparent reference to Barra, the only female CEO of a major U.S. auto company.

“They might even ask them to do it on a voluntary basis for civic and patriotic reasons,” he said.

The auto industry in Canada has also expressed a willingness to produce necessary medical supplies for demand in that country.

“We’ve got the capacity to make things from simple one-shot molds to complex assemblies. We make 500,000 of something every year, a thousand a day,” said Flavio Volpe, president of Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association.

“The country needs masks, gowns, goggles, ventilators. Can we assign some of our capacity to be able to help the cause,” he said in an interview with CBC. “The response has been overwhelming from auto parts makers. We’re in, just get us the specs.”

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