On the same day that General Motors started training workers to build life-saving ventilators, the White House snubbed the automaker in a public column.
White House official Peter Navarro wrote about the administration’s push to get more ventilators to hospitals for people with coronavirus in a column in USA Today.
Navarro is the assistant to President Donald Trump for trade and manufacturing and is the coordinator of the Defense Production Act policy.
He wrote that the administration is “moving swiftly in Trump Time to address a significant shortage of these lifesavers” in reference to the much-need critical-care ventilators.
Navarro wrote: “The Trump administration has worked with 10 manufacturers on a plan to deliver an additional 5,000 ventilators within the next 30 days, and more than 100,000 additional ventilators by the end of June.
“In a page taken out of the World War II playbook, the Ford Motor Co., with General Electric, is racing to produce an additional 50,000 new ventilators in 100 days at a converted auto plant in Michigan.”
Conspicuously absent from Navarro’s column is any mention of GM and its partner, medical device maker Ventec Life Systems.
GM announced March 20 that it had partnered with Ventec and has been working around the clock to secure the parts needed to make the machines. GM has retooled its 2.6 million-square-foot plant in Kokomo, Indiana, to start production of the ventilators in less than two weeks.
The plant will eventually have about 1,000 workers. Once mass production begins in mid-April, it will quickly scale up to producing 10,000 critical-care ventilators or more per month, GM said.
A spokesman for GM declined to comment on Navarro’s apparent rebuff. A spokesman for Ventec did not have an immediate comment. But some inside the companies were bewildered and stunned by it.
The White House did not offer an immediate response when asked for an explanation.
But during the White House press briefing Thursday, Navarro said Trump invoked the Defense production act last week to make sure ventilators start being made “in Trump time.” The order gives the president the power to force GM to make ventilators.
GM’s effort is “moving forward at the same time the Ford project is moving forward,” said Navarro at the briefing. He then issued a “Ford versus Ferrari”-type challenge between the two Detroit automakers to see which can produce more ventilators faster.
Navarro was referring to the film Ford v Ferrari about American automotive designer Carroll Shelby and British race car driver Ken Miles who pushed to beat the race cars of Enzo Ferrari in 1966 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France.
Navarro’s column comes about a week after Trump called out GM on Twitter, accusing GM of dragging its feet on ventilator production even as the company announced it would be starting production by mid-April at its components plant in Kokomo.
Later that day, Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to compel GM to make ventilators after what Trump described as a dispute with the company over supply and pricing, USA Today reported.
But the administration has not formally ordered any of the machines. Three administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity said that the government is still exploring its options and has not yet placed an order under the Defense Production Act for any of the machines, USA Today reported Friday.
Since Monday, GM has called back some 100 paid-volunteer employees to start training on the extensive screening, cleaning and other CDC-recommended procedures that GM is putting in place in Kokomo. They are also being trained on how to assemble the ventilators.
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