Mar 27, 2020 - Health

Trump erupts at GM over ventilators

President Trump speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 26. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

At President Trump's urging, automakers have mobilized with astonishing speed to help medical equipment makers produce much-needed ventilators and masks to fight the coronavirus.

But, but, but: With pressure mounting as the pandemic spreads and mixed signals coming from the White House's emergency response team, an agitated president lashed out at GM and Ford Friday morning on Twitter.

  • "As usual with 'this' General Motors, things just never seem to work out. 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. Invoke 'P'."
  • "General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!"
  • A few minutes later, he tweeted: "We have just purchased many Ventilators from some wonderful companies. Names and numbers will be announced later today!"

Where it stands: Within 90 minutes, Ventec Life Systems announced that GM will begin shipping FDA-cleared ventilators from GM's Kokomo, Indiana, factory as soon as next month. GM will redeploy 1,000 workers to ramp production and is donating its resources at cost, the release said.

  • "Depending on the needs of the federal government, Ventec and GM are poised to deliver the first ventilators next month and ramp up to a manufacturing capacity of more than 10,000 critical care ventilators per month with the infrastructure and capability to scale further."
  • Suppliers have been told to gear up for production of as many as 200,000 machines.
  • GM is also going to start making up to 100,000 surgical masks per day at a factory near Detroit.
  • "We are proud to stand with other American companies and our skilled employees to meet the needs of this global pandemic," said Mary Barra, GM chairman and CEO. "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."

Why it matters: Governors are pleading with Trump to do more to help their states secure the necessary supplies to care for a surge in coronavirus patients. But the president has been reluctant to federalize the effort.

  • At a news conference Thursday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee described a conference call with the president and other governors during which he pushed for Trump and his administration to be “more assertive and aggressive and more organized” on getting manufacturers across the country to pitch in, per the Seattle Times.
  • "Today we're in a mad scramble with 50 states competing against each other for crucial supplies," Inslee said. "We need a federal system ... just like we used in World War II."
  • After Trump told governors his administration was ready to be the "backup" for states in crisis, Inslee spoke up and said to the president, "We don't need a backup. We need a Tom Brady," according to the Washington Post.

What we know: The GM announcement had been scheduled for Wednesday but was called off to buy more time for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assess whether the estimated $1 billion price tag was too expensive, and how many ventilators would be produced, the New York Times reported and Axios confirmed.

Other automakers including Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota and Tesla are mobilizing supply chains and conferring with medical device makers to see how they can help.

Flashback: Trump publicly pushed GM to move heroically, but if the effort fails, GM will be left facing the fallout, as I wrote earlier this week.

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