Trump orders GM to make ventilators for the government

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President Donald Trump on Friday signed a presidential memorandum to require General Motors Co. to make ventilators for the federal government hours after the Detroit automaker said it already was moving closer to producing thousands of the devices in Kokomo, Ind.

“Today, I signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to use any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act to require General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize Federal contracts for ventilators,” the president said in a statement.

“Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course. GM was wasting time. Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives.”

GM is working around the clock with Bothell, Wash.,-based Ventec Life Systems to help boost production of its medical devices that help COVID-19 patients in severe cases to breathe. Ventilators built at Kokomo could be shipped as early as next month, and the automaker is donating its resources at cost.

In a statement following the president’s order, GM said: “Ventec, GM and our supply base have been working around the clock for over a week to meet this urgent need. Our commitment to build Ventec’s high-quality critical care ventilator, VOCSN, has never wavered.

“The partnership between Ventec and GM combines global expertise in manufacturing quality and a joint commitment to safety to give medical professionals and patients access to life-saving technology as rapidly as possible. The entire GM team is proud to support this initiative.”

The order came after Trump took to Twitter earlier in the day to slam GM and CEO Mary Barra over reneging on plans to build the ventilators. The allegation is flatly untrue, according to GM, as it sets up manufacturing capacity at its 2.6 million-square-foot Kokomo Operations and the company has begun hiring a workforce.

“As usual with ‘this’ General Motors, things just never seem to work out,” Trump wrote. “They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed Ventilators, ‘very quickly.’ Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar. Always a mess with Mary B.”

“We are proud to stand with other American companies and our skilled employees to meet the needs of this global pandemic,” Barra said in a statement earlier Friday. “This partnership has rallied the GM enterprise and our global supply base to support Ventec, and the teams are working together with incredible passion and commitment. I am proud of this partnership as we work together to address urgent and life-saving needs.”

The companies have secured suppliers for the more than 700 parts needed. They intend to build up to 200,000 of Ventec’s portable VOCSN ventilators with Kokomo producing 10,000 per month and possibly more.

“This unique partnership combines Ventec’s respiratory care expertise with GM’s manufacturing might to produce sophisticated and high-quality critical care ventilators,” Ventec CEO Chris Kiple said in a statement. “This pandemic is unprecedented and so is the response, with incredible support from GM and their suppliers. Healthcare professionals on the front lines deserve the best tools to treat patients, and precision critical care ventilators like VOCSN are what is necessary to save lives.”

GM is not seeking any money from the government, said two sources familiar with the discussions who were not permitted to speak publicly, but Ventec needs money to pay its suppliers. The companies earlier this week were preparing to announce a deal with the federal government, the people said, but the Trump administration’s Federal Emergency Management Agency is evaluating the number of ventilators it wants to order.

GM plans to assemble the ventilators with 1,000 employees who would be paid. With support from the United Auto Workers, it is drawing its volunteer workforce from its 392-person workforce in Kokomo and 891 workers at Marion Metal Center almost 30 miles away.

“We are happy to work with GM during this pandemic for the health and safety and good of our Nation as we collaborate towards the production of ventilators,” Terry Dittes, UAW vice president and director of the GM Department, said in a statement. “The UAW has a proud history of stepping up in times of national emergency. General Motors should be commended for stepping up at a crucial moment in our history. At the UAW we are — all in — to find ways to partner together to flatten this curve and save lives.”

Suppliers also continue to move forward with plans to make as many as 20,000 ventilators per month, said Todd Olson, CEO of Minnesota-based Twin City Die Castings Co., which is making 14 parts for the ventilators.

“Actually from our standpoint, we’re ahead of schedule,” Olson said. “We’re going full speed ahead.”

After casting its first parts for the devices on Thursday, the company was ready to machine them on Friday. Olson hopes to have usable parts ready on Saturday. The company has been directed to ship them to Washington and Kokomo.

“I’ve told everybody to continue to move as fast as possible, and let the other folks sort it out,” Olson said concerning reports of the government contract.

GM also said it will make surgical masks by temporarily converting its closed Warren Transmission Plant. Production will begin Monday and ramp up to make 50,000 masks per day within two weeks. It hopes eventually to make 100,000 masks per day based on material availability. GM is working with governments and local suppliers to distribute them.

Trump also called for GM to make the medical devices at its former sprawling Lordstown plant in northeast Ohio. Electric-vehicle start-up Lordstown Motors Corp. purchased the building for $20 million in November. It is now in the plant working to prepare for December production of its electric pickup, the Endurance.

“General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!” Trump tweeted. “FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!”

Ford Motor Co. this week said it was partnering with the 3M Co. and GE Healthcare to boost production of powered air-purifying respirators and ventilators, respectively. The ramp-up was expected to happen in the coming days and weeks, the Dearborn automaker said Tuesday. It also began delivering to hospitals and police agencies, including in New York, tens of thousands of face shields made at its subsidiary, Troy Design & Manufacturing Co. in Plymouth.

“Ford is pulling out all the stops to quickly and safely provide vitally needed equipment for patients, first responders and healthcare workers,” Ford spokesman Mike Levine said in a statement. “Ford is in active conversations with the Administration, seeking guidance about approvals, scope and distribution relating to a series of products, including ventilators.”


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