US President Donald Trump has invoked the federal government’s wartime powers to force General Motors build ventilators for coronavirus patients after he accused the car maker of “wasting time” during negotiations.
Mr Trump, resorting to the Defence Production Act for the first time, said GM was not moving quickly enough, with the company announcing it would begin building ventilators in the coming weeks.
GM said in a statement in response that it has been working with ventilator firm Ventec Life Systems and GM suppliers “around the clock for over a week to meet this urgent need” and said its commitment to Ventec’s ventilators “has never wavered.”
“They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed ventilators, ‘very quickly’,” Mr Trump said on Twitter of GM and Ventec’s effort.
“Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar.”
General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!! @GeneralMotors @Ford
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 27, 2020
Democrats have urged Mr Trump to invoke the Defence Production Act to produce more medical supplies, but the President had been reluctant to do so until now.
Democratic US Senator Ed Markey said, “About time. Now, tell us every day: which companies will be making more of this equipment, how much is being made, and where the equipment is going.”
Mr Trump said he expected the United States would make or obtain 100,000 additional ventilators within the next 100 days.
Following Mr Trump’s tweets, Ford said it was moving as fast as it could to gear up its ventilator manufacturing efforts and was in “active conversations” with the Trump administration seeking approvals.
Ford said it has “teams working flat-out with GE Healthcare to boost production of simplified ventilators.”
The attack on GM and Ford coincided with rising tension between Mr Trump and the Democratic governors of New York and Michigan, who have criticised the administration’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic.
On Thursday evening, Mr Trump questioned whether New York state needed 30,000 ventilators to cope with rising numbers of coronavirus patients.
New York City Mayor Bill be Blasio on Friday said on Twitter that Tesla had agreed to donate hundreds of ventilators to hospital intensive care units in New York City and the state of New York.
Tesla chief executive Elon Musk in response said the electric car maker was helping locate and deliver existing ventilators.
“This afternoon I invoked the Defense Production Act to compel General Motors to accept, perform and prioritize federal contracts for ventilators… We will not hesitate to use the full authority of the federal government to combat this crisis.” – @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/ITkFSYas50
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) March 27, 2020
Mr Trump also said countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Italy need ventilators and that if the excess volume is not needed, the United States can export them.
On Friday, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States topped 100,000, the highest in the world. The US death toll topped 1,550.