The last time the world faced a global threat on the level of COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, it was the 1940s. As part of America's World War II effort, the auto industry shut down car production to build planes, tanks, jeeps and myriad other tools of battle. Almost 80 years later, automakers are once again answering the call. Here is how some automakers plan to help over the coming months. Edmunds will continue to update this article as more information becomes available.
Automakers Mobilize to Fight Coronavirus
A Wartime-Like Retooling to Battle the Global Pandemic
Ford has partnered with 3M to increase the manufacture of powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs). These PAPRs are wearable, self-powered filtration units intended to keep health care workers protected from airborne contaminants. Air is drawn into a filter and routed into a hood, mask or integrated face shield.
To help speed the process, Ford is trying to repurpose existing resources. In the case of the PAPRs, the fans are from the F-150 pickup truck's seat coolers and draw power from portable tool battery packs for up to eight hours. If successful, Ford could potentially help 3M increase production tenfold.
In another effort to protect health care workers and first responders, Ford's design team has developed full-face shields to block accidental contact with airborne droplets from a cough or sneeze. Used in conjunction with N95 respirators, these face shields can provide more protection than just respirators alone. Ford says testing has begun at Detroit area hospitals and expects the first batch of 75,000 shields to be produced before the end of March. Ford estimates 100,000 shields can be produced in cooperation with the United Auto Workers union every week thereafter.
Related to a request from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Ford has also partnered with GE Healthcare to increase the production of ventilators. These ventilators move breathable air into the lungs of patients who are having difficulty breathing or are unable to breathe on their own. The expected demand for ventilators far outpaces the units currently available. If a solution is found, Ford and GE manufacturing sites would handle production. Ford is also evaluating the production of these units in the U.K., separate from the GE effort. Elsewhere in Ford, 3D printers are being tasked to produce components for use in personal protective equipment.
In cooperation with StopTheSpread.org, a nationwide coordinated private-sector response to the virus, GM has partnered with Ventec Life Systems to increase ventilator production. Ventec plans to leverage GM's logistics expertise, purchasing power and manufacturing capabilities to get ahead of the curve.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plans to manufacture and donate more than 1 million protective face masks per month to first responders. Details are still being worked through, but FCA expects to begin distribution throughout North America in the coming weeks.
We have yet to confirm the details, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that 1,255 ventilators have been purchased from China, which reportedly has an oversupply of the units. Musk also told CleanTechnica.com that he has 250,000 N95 masks ready for distribution. Plans to produce ventilators are also in process.