Automakers are taking steps to help boost production of key medical equipment necessary to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.
General Motors and Tesla are devoting resources to help solve the nation’s shortage of ventilators, which are critically needed to treat COVID-19. Ford Motor is also weighing plans to do so.
It was not immediately clear how quickly the automakers could ramp up production on ventilators.
President Donald Trump on Sunday hailed the companies, which have temporarily shut down American automotive capacity.
“Ford, General Motors and Tesla are being given the go ahead to make ventilators and other metal products, FAST!” he said on Twitter. “Go for it auto execs, lets see how good you are?”
The Food and Drug Administration said Sunday that it has reduced certain barriers in the medical device approval process to enable speedy production of ventilators, which are used to help patients breathe.
Automakers and other manufacturers will be able to “more easily repurpose production lines to help increase supply” due to the changes, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.
Elon Musk, CEO of electric vehicle maker Tesla and rocket maker SpaceX, said last week that both of those companies are taking steps to help.
“We’re working on ventilators, even though I think there will not be a shortage by the time we can make enough to matter,” he said.
GM said Friday that it’s collaborating with Ventec Life Systems to help the company increase output of its respiratory care products, including by providing logistics, purchasing and manufacturing resources.
Ford confirmed that it has been in “preliminary discussions” with the U.S. and British governments about making medical equipment, including potentially ventilators.
The Trump administration has faced criticism for not taking proactive steps to address the need for ventilators during the crisis, including not yet activating the Defense Production Act, which would enable the federal government to press manufacturers into health care equipment output.
“We need to start having the capacity to make those ventilators, respirators and all the protective equipment that we need to keep our front-line workers working,” Richard Trumka said, president of the AFL-CIO, said an interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers.” “Because if they come off the line, then we don’t have anyone to take care of the sick.”
In response to the shortage, the FDA on Sunday said it is waiving regulations that would typically require a new manufacturer of ventilator parts to receive approval from the FDA and is waiving regulations that require approval to modify a ventilator.
Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday, Larry Kudlow, an economic adviser to Trump, said he had spoken to auto executives and that one of them, presumably GM CEO Mary Barra, had told him “while the men and women may be off for two weeks due to the virus, she’s going to try to call them back so they can produce ventilators.”
“They might even ask them to do it on a voluntary basis,” Kudlow said.
If automakers ramp up capacity to help make medical equipment, it could be reminiscent of how, during World War II, auto production largely ceased and plants were switched over to produce aircraft, tanks, munitions and weapons. President Franklin D. Roosevelt described the effort as part of the “arsenal of democracy.”
The American Hospital Association estimates 960,000 Americans could need mechanical help to breathe during the coronavirus pandemic.
Contributing: Detroit Free Press reporter Todd Spangler
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.