GM, Ford: Building cars, medical gear


By Jamie L. LaReau - Detroit Free Press



DETROIT — General Motors and Ford Motor Co. have gone from building cars to making medical gear.

That’s not an easy shift for automakers to pull off and it is getting the attention of CBS’ “60 Minutes” and the White House.

The automakers will be featured on “60 Minutes” this Sunday detailing how they switched gears to help the country during the coronavirus pandemic.

Separately, GM will host Vice President Mike Pence on April 30 at its plant in Indiana where it’s building critical care ventilators with Ventec Life Systems.

‘60 Minutes’ calls

On Thursday, “60 Minutes” tweeted that it would report on COVID-19’s impact on GM and Ford, showcasing how the car companies transformed plants from making cars to making critical care ventilators and medical supplies.

“60 Minutes” airs at 7 p.m. Sunday.

Both Ford and GM have partnered with ventilator makers to start manufacturing the machines during the coronavirus pandemic. The automakers are also making face masks, medical gowns and other medical supplies.

Both GM and Ford said they worked with the television news program for several weeks on the report.

Ford’s Executive Chairman Bill Ford gave the show an interview at Ford’s Rawsonville plant in Ypsilanti, where it’s making the ventilators. Right before the interview, Ford walked the assembly line, meeting employees and thanking them for stepping up to build the machines.

“We’re proud to share details of our employees’ multiple efforts to help the world fight COVID-19, including face shields, masks, powered air-purifying respirators, gowns for medical workers and working with GE Healthcare to produce ventilators for patients,” said Ford spokesman Mike Levine.

Likewise, GM is sewing medical gowns, face shields and aerosol boxes — the transparent containers that protect medical personnel as they intubate patients — at its Technical Center in Warren.

GM and Ventec have been working with “60 Minutes” for about two weeks on the report, GM spokesman Jim Cain said. GM is building the ventilators at its electric components plant in Kokomo, Indiana.

Cain said the network approached GM asking to learn more about “the massive effort GM team members and our suppliers undertook to launch mass-production of ventilators, face masks and other protective equipment.”

GM CEO Mary Barra interviewed with the show remotely from GM’s former transmission plant in Warren, Cain said. GM is now making face masks at that facility.

Ventilator production

GM and Ventec have been awarded a $489 million government contract to manufacture 30,000 ventilators for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be distributed by FEMA to hospitals by the end of August.

One week ago Friday, GM delivered the first ventilators it made, a shipment of 10 to Franciscan Health Olympia Fields in Olympia Fields, Illinois; 10 more to Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and 34 to FEMA at the Gary/Chicago International Airport on Saturday for FEMA to distribute to locations in need.

“We are proud of the team in Kokomo, and the interest people have in the work they are doing building life-saving critical care ventilators,” Cain said.

At Ford, partnered with GE Healthcare, has been awarded a $336 million contract under the Defense Production Act to make 50,000 ventilators.

Ford also has designed and will produce powered air-purifying respirators, as well as face masks. It is ramping up production of reusable medical gowns made from vehicle air bag material. It also will help make more COVID-19 testing collection kits.

White House thanks

Separately, Vice President and former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will visit GM’s electronic components plant in Kokomo at the end of the month to view the switch to ventilator production..

The details of the visit will be released later.

GM said the details on the Pence visit must come from the White House.

The visit is notable given that President Donald Trump initially was critical of GM, chiding the company for moving too slowly on ventilator production. But since GM announced it would build the machines, Trump has praised the automaker.

“The vice president’s staff has indicated that he wants to meet members of the team and thank them for their work,” said GM’s Cain.

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By Jamie L. LaReau

Detroit Free Press

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