From Vehicles to Ventilators

The Surprising Way Automobile Companies are Contributing to the Corona-Relief Effort

By: Claudia Buonsante

This photograph depicts a woman on a ventilator, the life-saving device that companies are scrambling to produce. Credit:

The Coronavirus outbreak poses challenges to every sector of our economy. Whether you are an essential worker braving public exposure, an employee who’s been laid off, or one of our healthcare heroes working on the front lines, COVID has touched us all.

It is important that we take a moment to recognize the achievements of several automobile manufacturers that have adapted to the crisis and kept their workers employed. Not only have they avoided firing staff but they have also turned around their business models to produce high-demand medical devices, like ventilators. 

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, General Motors has recently signed a deal with the federal government to produce 30,000 ventilators by the end of August. Similarly, Ford has announced they plan to make 50,000 ventilators by September and 30,000 per month thereafter. They will, of course, be implementing extensive sanitation measures and social distancing guidelines.

This is a massive undertaking considering that ventilators are highly-detailed machines and car-manufacturing staff is inexperienced in making medical supplies. Almost overnight, these companies have managed to restructure their business model and rigorously train their employees to make medical supplies.

To assist their endeavors, these corporations have partnered with major medical-supplies companies. The Washington-based medical device company, called Ventec, is guiding General Motors through the process and Ford is working with the Florida-based company, Airon, which specializes in making portable ventilators. These partnerships should ease the transition from automobile manufacturing to medical-supply production.

These projects are redolent of WWII-era production. During the 1940s, General Motors converted all its factories to produce airplanes, tanks, trucks, guns, and shells for the United States military. 

Cumulatively, GM produced 12 billion dollars worth of war-time supplies- no other company at the time could match their hefty contribution, but several tried. For example, Ford produced B-24 bombers, jeeps, tank engines, and several other kinds of military hardware but not to the extent that GM did.

These companies have been fiercely flexible when faced with turbulent economic conditions. Their 180-turn around is an impressive feat no matter the circumstances.

It is important to note that these companies also supplied the Axis Powers with materials [Ford and GM Scrutinized for Alleged Nazi Collaboration, Washington Post] so their WWII projects were not altruistic ventures like that of 2020. 

In recent months, it has become obvious that these companies are shifting their production because of concern for public welfare. General Motors even announced they will be creating ventilators at-cost, meaning they gain no profit from the venture. 

It is not only spectacular from an economic approach, but it is heart-warming from a human perspective. We are coming together to defeat this virus.

These remarkable projects not only demonstrate the persistence of these companies but also their ingenuity and flexibility. These corporations are single-handedly preserving their workers’ jobs, while also reducing stress on the health-care systems. 

Stories like this offer a glimmer of hope during this dire time. I find this fascinating not only because GM and Ford are helping those in need, but because their efforts reflect the capacity of human endeavors.


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