If your intention is to practice journalism, one of the things you need to learn quickly is that there are two sides to every story, no matter what the story is. In that spirit, we’re going to attempt to present the most significant automotive news to appear in the last couple of days. On Friday, General Motors announced that it will partner with Ventec Life Systems of Bothell, Washington, to mass-produce Ventec’s line of VOCSYN critical-care ventilators at its parts plant in Kokomo, Indiana, and a body-stamping facility in Marion, Indiana. At the same time, GM also disclosed its intention to make up to 100,000 Level 1 surgical masks at its famed manufacturing operation in Warren, Michigan. Initial production is set to get underway this week.
The announcement followed criticism from White House officials that GM, one of the world’s largest manufacturing concerns, was “dragging its feet” in adapting its production assets to making health-care goods. The criticism singled out GM chairwoman and CEO Mary T. Barra for special scrutiny. So, while not deviating from the fact that this site focuses on cars, we present what happened, in sequence of the occurrences last week. You can decide on your own whether the amplified criticism was warranted. For its part, GM answered the criticism by releasing a statement reading, in its entirety, “Ventec, GM and our supply base have been working around the clock for over a week to meet this urgent need. Our commitment to build Ventec’s high-quality critical care ventilator, VOCSN, has never wavered. The partnership between Ventec and GM 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. The entire GM team is proud to support this initiative.” What’s arguably more relevant than the who-struck-John from the body politic is that the GM-Ventec agreement marks one of the American auto industry’s first efforts to mobilize production against the COVID-19 outbreak, the first such massed shift in automotive production capacity since World War II, and the first ever to involve medical equipment, as opposed to war or aerospace materiel. And the momentum is building across the industry: Hyundai last week dedicated $2.2 million to set up 11 drive-through testing centers at children’s hospitals across the country, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will produce and donate up to a million face masks each month from a converted plant, and Toyota Motor North America will immediately begin production of protective face shields and masks immediately while negotiating to form a GM-like partnership to build desperately needed ventilators.