GM to produce masks, ventilators during COVID-19 outbreak

Trump attacks CEO Mary Barra after NYT story

By: and - March 28, 2020 6:12 am

GM headquarters, Detroit | Susan J. Demas

General Motors — which, like all Big Three automakers, has shut down its plants to stop the spread of COVID-19 — announced Friday a partnership with Ventec Life Systems to produce ventilators at its Kokomo, Ind., manufacturing facility.

GM said it is contributing its resources at cost.

“We are proud to stand with other American companies and our skilled employees to meet the needs of this global pandemic,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement. “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.”

President Donald Trump meets with CEO of General Motors Mary Barra (L), CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Sergio Marchionne (R) and other auto industry leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on January 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. | Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images

GM said that Federal Drug Administration (FDA)-cleared ventilators are scheduled to ship as soon as next month and the effort is in addition to Ventec ramping up production at its manufacturing facility in Bothell, Wash.

“We announced today that the UAW GM department is collaborating with General Motors towards the production of critically needed ventilators,” UAW President Rory Gamble said in a statement. “This is part of so many efforts going on across our union and with brothers and sisters across our nation to help all of us fight this terrible virus.”

GM also will begin manufacturing FDA-cleared Level 1 surgical masks by reopening its Warren, Mich., manufacturing facility. The company said production will begin next week and will ramp up to 50,000 masks per day within two weeks, with the potential to increase to 100,000 per day.

Michigan manufacturing sees ups and downs on Trump’s watch

“The hardworking men and women at our nation’s best automotive companies have always answered the call when their country needs them — be it an international war or, today, a global pandemic,” said state Sen. Paul Wojno (D-Warren). “I’m as proud as ever of the UAW, General Motors, suppliers and everyone else who is stepping up to get us through this difficult time.”

Earlier on Friday, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to bash Barra.

The New York Times ran a story Thursday reporting that the White House planned to announce a venture between General Motors and Ventec to produce 80,000 ventilators. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) balked at the $1 billion price tag and it would result in an expensive surplus of ventilators. 

On Friday morning, Trump blamed GM and “Mary B.” — again, not using the full name of a female leader, something he has done while attacking Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“As usual with “this” General Motors, things just never seem to work out. They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed Ventilators, “very quickly”. Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar. Always a mess with Mary B. Invoke “P,”” Trump tweeted.

As for the discussions with GM to produce 80,000 ventilators for $1 billion, Trump said the company was asking for “top dollar” and said he doesn’t think that number of ventilators is necessary.

“Our negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course,” Trump said. “GM was wasting time. Today’s action will help ensure the quick production of ventilators that will save American lives.”

Trump said he ordered GM to start producing ventilators through the Defense Production Act, which temporarily requires manufacturing companies to mass produce and distribute resources needed for times of war, espionage and now, pandemics. 

Rick Haglund: Big 3 automakers could enlist to produce COVID-19 medical equipment

Previously, Trump has been hesitant to make use of the DPA’s powers in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Leaders have taken a number of actions to try to evoke action from the Trump administration.

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), along with  U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and John Katko (R-N.Y.), announced the “Medical Supply Chain Emergency Act” on Tuesday to force Trump into taking action through the DPA.

Slotkin, a former Pentagon official and CIA analyst, is now urging Trump to name a federal emergency medical supply czar to better coordinate efforts.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin introducing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Feb. 19, 2020 | Andrew Roth

“The federal government must do far more to quickly get protective equipment to front-line health care providers,” Slotkin during a video news conference Friday. “But the first step is to cut through the chaos by naming an emergency medical supply czar to oversee the procurement of the gowns, masks, and face shields our providers need. 

“Without a single, unified sight picture of the needs of the nation and the resources available to meet them — and an experienced crisis leader who can lay out a unified plan for the job — we will fail to get our nurses and doctors the gear they need to protect themselves, so they can protect us. I urge the administration to seize this moment and name a supply czar to lead this critical mission.”

On Friday, Trump also signed into law a bipartisan $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package, which will provide billions of dollars to hospitals, as well as state and local government to aid in their response to the outbreak.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.

Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8.