DETROIT — General Motors and Ford Motor Co said on Tuesday they are close to completing production of ventilators ordered by the Trump administration this spring in response to the surge in coronavirus cases, and are ramping down or exiting the operations.
Many of the ventilators assembled by the automakers and other manufacturers have gone into a U.S. government stockpile as doctors have refined other forms of treatment, reserving invasive ventilators for only the worst COVID-19 patients. The government currently has 108,000 ventilators in its medical equipment stockpile, and 12,000 deployed at U.S. hospitals, the U.S. Health and Human Services department said Tuesday.
GM and medical equipment maker Ventec Life Systems are in the “home stretch” toward completing a contract to deliver 30,000 critical care ventilators by the end of August under a $489 million contract with the federal government, the automaker said.
GM and Ventec have already delivered more than 20,000 machines, GM spokesman Jim Cain said.
Ford has assembled about 47,000 of the 50,000 ventilators it agreed to supply to partner General Electric Co, Ford spokeswoman Rachel McCleery said. GE has a $336 million contract with the government.
Ford and GM earlier this year said they would employ a total of as many as 1,500 people on ventilator assembly lines. Automakers likened the efforts to their switch from making cars to tanks and planes during the Second World War.
With North American car and truck factories back in operation, the Detroit automakers are winding down their forays into ventilator manufacturing, while continuing to make respiratory masks.
GM has said it plans to transfer the ventilator-making operations at a factory in Kokomo, Indiana, to its partner Ventec on Sept.1. Union-represented GM workers employed at the plant will return to the automaker, and temporary workers will remain with Ventec.
Ford has not said what the future will be for its ventilator facility.
The automakers’ efforts to build ventilators and other medical equipment were launched in a politically charged atmosphere as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic swamped the U.S. economy and healthcare system. A shortage of ventilators became a symbol of the nation’s struggle to respond.
U.S. President Donald Trump put pressure on automakers as part of a broader push to secure more than 130,000 ventilators by the end of 2020, but by then automakers had already swung into action on their own, partly using the medical equipment assembly operations to test safety protocols they later used to reopen vehicle assembly lines.