The automaker was already working on ventilator production with medical supplier Ventec.

With COVID-19 cases drastically increasing in the United States, today President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act and signed an order for General Motors to produce ventilators in the fight against coronavirus.

The order is something of a surprise, as several news outlets report the President indicated less than 24 hours prior that he was not looking to invoke the act. The order also comes several days after GM already announced plans to manufacture ventilators, working with medical supplier Ventec to build 200,000 ventilators.

The details of Trump’s order aren’t clear at this point. GM and Ventec are utilizing the automaker’s electronics assembly facility in Kokomo, Indiana to produce the ventilators. It’s possible the order could require GM to mobilize other locations to speed production. Curiously, Trump tweeted earlier today that GM must reopen the Lordstown, Ohio plant “or some other plant” to produce ventilators. GM sold the factory to upstart EV company Lordstown Motors last November.

GM released a statement today regarding its plan, indicating the company is already working around-the-clock on ventilators with Ventec. The automaker will also produce surgical masks at its Warren, Michigan facility. Mask production will begin next week and ramp-up to 50,000 masks per day within two weeks. GM’s statement doesn’t mention how many ventilators will be produced or when production will begin, but shipments could begin some time next month.

“We are proud to stand with other American companies and our skilled employees to meet the needs of this global pandemic,” said Mary Barra, GM chairman and CEO. “This partnership has rallied the GM enterprise and our global supply base to support Ventec, and the teams are working together with incredible passion and commitment. I am proud of this partnership as we work together to address urgent and life-saving needs. GM is in the position to help build more ventilators because of the remarkable performance of GM and Ventec’s global supply base. Our joint teams have moved mountains to find real solutions to save lives and fight the pandemic.”

There’s been some speculation that Trump’s executive action could be related to GM's proposed cost for the ventilators. A report from The New York Times says an announcement from the White House on ventilator production for the government had been coming, but it was pulled back at the last minute to further evaluate an alleged price tag of over £802 million.

In a press conference late this afternoon discussing the situation, President Trump said the negotiations “got to be a debate over cost” and expressed displeasure for GM building plants outside the United States. He also made a specific mention of his displeasure over the Lordstown plant and again suggested it could be a good place to build ventilators, despite GM no longer owning the facility.

“This afternoon I invoked the DPA to compel GM to accept, perform, and prioritize federal contracts for ventilators,” said Trump at the press conference. “We thought we had a deal with … GM and I guess they thought otherwise. They didn’t agree, and now they do.”

Trump’s order today was strictly aimed at General Motors. It’s unknown if Ford or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will be included at a later date. Both Detroit automakers have already announced plans to manufacture surgical masks and supplies for hospitals and first responders.

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Bothell, Wash. – Ventec Life Systems announced today General Motors will build VOCSN critical care ventilators at GM’s Kokomo, Indiana manufacturing facility with FDA-cleared ventilators scheduled to ship as soon as next month. This effort is in addition to Ventec taking aggressive steps to ramp up production at their manufacturing facility in Bothell, Washington.

Across all manufacturers, there is a global backorder of critical care ventilators capable of supporting patients fighting COVID-19. The companies are adding thousands of units of new capacity with a significantly expanded supply chain capable of supporting high volume production. GM is contributing its resources at cost.

GM will also begin manufacturing FDA-cleared Level 1 surgical masks at its Warren, Michigan manufacturing facility. Production will begin next week and within two weeks ramp up to 50,000 masks per day, with the potential to increase to 100,000 per day.

Critical Care Ventilators

“This unique partnership combines Ventec’s respiratory care expertise with GM’s manufacturing might to produce sophisticated and high-quality critical care ventilators,” said Chris Kiple, CEO of Ventec Life Systems. “This pandemic is unprecedented and so is this response, with incredible support from GM and their suppliers. Healthcare professionals on the front lines deserve the best tools to treat patients and precision critical care ventilators like VOCSN are what is necessary to save lives.”

Ventec and GM are working around the clock to meet the urgent need for more ventilators.  Efforts to set up tooling and manufacturing capacity at the GM Kokomo facility are already underway to produce Ventec’s critical care ventilator, VOCSN. Depending on the needs of the federal government, Ventec and GM are poised to deliver the first ventilators next month and ramp up to a manufacturing capacity of more than 10,000 critical care ventilators per month with the infrastructure and capability to scale further.

“We are proud to stand with other American companies and our skilled employees to meet the needs of this global pandemic,” said Mary Barra, GM chairman and CEO. “This partnership has rallied the GM enterprise and our global supply base to support Ventec, and the teams are working together with incredible passion and commitment. I am proud of this partnership as we work together to address urgent and life-saving needs.”

GM will deploy an estimated 1,000 American workers to scale production of critical care ventilators immediately. Working with the UAW, GM has brought back employees from GM’s Kokomo and Marion facilities.

Since Friday, March 20, Ventec and GM teams across manufacturing, engineering, purchasing, legal and others have been tirelessly and seamlessly working together to create and implement a plan for immediate, scaled production of critical care ventilators. The Ventec and GM global supply base developed sourcing plans for the more than 700 individual parts that are needed to build up to 200,000 VOCSN.

”GM is in the position to help build more ventilators because of the remarkable performance of GM and Ventec’s global supply base,” added Barra. “Our joint teams have moved mountains to find real solutions to save lives and fight the pandemic.”

The Ventec Life Systems team has a history of patient-centric design which includes more than 18 care-changing respiratory devices and more than 40 patents. Ventec's leading product, VOCSN, is the first and only Multi-Function Ventilator and was FDA cleared in 2017. VOCSN seamlessly integrates five separate devices including a critical care ventilator, oxygen concentrator, cough assist, suction and nebulizer into a single portable device.  VOCSN provides invasive and non-invasive ventilation across a comprehensive set of modes and settings throughout the care continuum from the hospital to the home. 

GM’s Kokomo facility supports the production of precision electrical components and is approximately 2.6 million square feet, located on more than 270 acres.

This partnership combines global expertise in manufacturing quality and a joint commitment to safety to give medical professionals and patients access to life-saving technology as rapidly as possible.

Level 1 Surgical Masks

In a separate effort, GM is expanding its support of medical equipment production by temporarily converting its Warren, Michigan plant to build Level 1 surgical masks. Production will begin next week and within two weeks ramp up to 50,000 masks per day, with the potential to increase to 100,000 per day. Daily mask production will be influenced by the availability of materials to build the masks.

The necessary machinery will be delivered to the Warren plant Friday morning and production of masks will begin next week.

This employee-led initiative was created, planned and approved in about 48 hours and involves GM’s traditional supply base as well as new partnerships specific to the medical device industry. GM will be collaborating with governments and local suppliers to distribute the masks.