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President Trump speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus. Photo: JIM WATSON / Getty Images

General Motors is exploring how it can help a small ventilator manufacturer ramp up production, but it is unlikely to make medical equipment itself as part of a broader wartime response to the novel coronavirus, as President Trump suggested Friday.

Why it matters: While GM CEO Mary Barra offered the automaker's help in fighting the global pandemic, the company is scrambling to keep up with the president's public statements. But it is wrong to assume that automakers can quickly retool industrial factories to make precision medical equipment the way they made bombs, tanks and airplanes during World War II.

Driving the news: At a press briefing Friday, Trump was asked if he could name any of the private companies that would manufacture medical supplies for the federal government under the Defense Production Act, which he invoked this week.

  • "I will be, but first I want to get approval. I assume they’d like it but I’ll let you know. One company that has openly stated it is General Motors," Trump responded to reporters' questions.

Reality check: GM has made no public commitment to produce medical supplies, but issued two statements, first on Wednesday and again late Friday to try to keep up with the Trump administration's public remarks.

Where it stands: GM said Friday evening it is collaborating with Ventec Life Systems, a manufacturer of an innovative multi-function ventilator, to see how it can help them increase production.

  • Ventec's product, approved by the FDA in 2017, combines five respiratory functions into a single, portable device that reduces the space, staff and supplies needed to manage patients on a ventilator.

What they're saying:  

  • Barra, in a statement: “We are working closely with Ventec to rapidly scale up production of their critically important respiratory products to support our country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue to explore ways to help in this time of crisis.”
  • Chris Kiple, CEO, Ventec Life Systems, emailed Axios: "Ventilator manufacturers produce thousands of ventilators; auto manufactures produce millions of automobiles — they understand how to scale manufacturing and could be a helpful resource to expedite ventilator production.”

What's really happening:

  • On Thursday, a small team of senior manufacturing executives from GM flew to Seattle, and on Friday morning they visited Ventec's manufacturing facility in suburban Bothell, Wash., to learn about their product and manufacturing processes.

Their focus is on how GM can leverage its manufacturing expertise to help Ventec squeeze out more ventilators, according to a GM source.

  • There are no plans for GM to manufacture ventilators or parts for Ventec.
  • More likely, GM could use its global scale to lean on suppliers, including raw materials suppliers, to provide the components that Ventec needs.
  • It could also offer its expertise in mass production techniques to optimize Ventec's assembly processes.

One of the biggest challenges is securing components, especially the disposable, single-use tubes and masks made of highly specialized medical-grade materials, experts say.

  • Most are manufactured outside the U.S. — in Costa Rica, Japan, South Korea and China — and the virus has slowed production in many parts of the world.
  • Even where factories are producing ventilator parts, shipping is complicated by a drastic reduction in cargo carriers and air freight.
  • GM could potentially use its logistics networks to get those parts delivered to Ventec's facility faster.

Yes, but: There are many reasons why it's not feasible for an auto manufacturer to quickly retool a factory for ventilator production.

  • GM — or any experienced manufacturer — says it could easily 3D-print needed parts like valves as long as it had the math formulas, for example.
  • But getting clearance from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is a giant hurdle.
  • The FDA must validate any new manufacturing facility for products like respiratory devices, a process that can take months or even years.

The bottom line: All options are on the table, says GM.

Go deeper

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.