General Motors to help Seattle firm boost ventilator production

Carmaker will provide logistics, purchasing and manufacturing support to Ventec

An employee works on final assembly of VOCSN Multi-Function Ventilators, which integrate five separate medical devices, at Ventec Life Systems, a ventilator manufacturer that has seen a large increase in demand since the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak began, in Bothell, Washington, U.S. March 18, 2020.  REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

General Motors is forming a collaborative venture with Ventec Life Systems to help the company increase production of ventilators, which are used to treat patients with Covid-19, GM said.

General Motors will provide Ventec with logistics, purchasing and manufacturing expertise as the Seattle company moves to increase production. The ventilators will be built in Ventec plants, not GM’s, a representative for the carmaker said.

“With GM’s help, Ventec will increase production,” said Ventec chief executive Chris Kiple. “By tapping their expertise, GM is enabling us to get more ventilators to more hospitals much faster. This partnership will help save lives.”

GM could eventually use its facilities to build equipment with Ventec’s processes and systems, but this would take time to accomplish and is not currently planned.

GM chief executive Mary Barra told White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow last week that the carmaker would help in any way possible, including assisting with the production of ventilators. This is the fastest way GM could help, the representative said.

Ford Motors and Tesla have made similar statements.

"We are working closely with Ventec to rapidly scale up production of their critically important respiratory products to support our country's fight against the Covid-19 pandemic," Ms Barra said. "We will continue to explore ways to help in this time of crisis."

The move reflects the history of the big US carmakers, as GM, Ford and other manufacturers converted car plants during the Second World War to build tanks, bombers and other wartime goods. This time, though, it would be more difficult to adapt them to produce medical equipment.

Companies such as Ventec must meet stringent rules from the federal government and have facilities that are far cleaner than most factories, especially car plants, said Sandy Munro, president of consulting firm Munro & Associates. Medical equipment also requires different processes and skills than car assembly.

"You have to have medical clean rooms and you have specific training," Mr Munro said. "None of these guys have that. It would take a long time to be able to do this kind of work.