Germany asks auto giants to make medical gear to fight virus


The German government asked domestic car manufacturers to consider producing medical equipment such as masks or ventilators to help fight the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

The request forms part of wider efforts by authorities to tap engineering and production resources and tackle severe supply bottlenecks in critical medical equipment, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the talks aren’t public.

“This is a company decision. Companies have to take the decision themselves,” said a spokesperson for the country’s economy ministry.

VW said on Friday that it had assembled a task force to see how it can use 3-D printing to help manufacture hospital ventilators and other life-saving equipment.  While medical equipment was a new venture for the firm, it could start production as soon as it receives the necessary information, a VW spokesman said.

VW has more than 125 industrial 3-D printers that have so far been mainly used to build components for vehicle prototypes, the spokesman added.

VW CEO Herbert Diess said Saturday the manufacturer started building up production capacity for protective masks in China, and is supporting German authorities with temperature measuring devices, masks, disinfectants and diagnostic equipment.

Daimler has received requests from authorities and is currently exploring options, a spokesman said on Sunday.

VW and Daimler have also agreed to donate more than 300,000 protective masks from their existing resources to health organizations.

Political leaders in the U.S. and Europe have intensified talks over engaging private companies across industries in the battle against the virus as health care systems reel from a surging number of infections and fatalities. At some Spanish hospitals, doctors and nurses have even resorted to taping garbage sacks to their arms to shield themselves after running out of disposable coats.

In the UK ,an engineering consortium that includes McLaren and Nissan has developed an emergency ventilator prototype, which could be approved for use in hospitals by the end of next week.

Separately in Italy, Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are in talks with Siare Engineering, the country’s biggest ventilator manufacturer, to help to boost production of the equipment.

General Motors is working with Ventec Life Systems to enable the medical device maker to leverage the U.S. automaker’s logistics and expertise to build more ventilators. GM has said it could use some excess factory space to build hospital ventilators

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who initially downplayed the risks posed by the virus, tweeted Saturday that he had talked with Medtronic about making ventilators.

Medtronic said earlier in the week it will more than double its capacity to make and supply ventilators to fight the global pandemic, with the machines playing a critical role in assisting patients with respiratory functions.

Reuters contributed to this report

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