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Trump drags GM, Ford into political war over ventilators to fight coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: A ventilator is seen at the New York City Emergency Management Warehouse, where 400 ventilators arrived and before being shipped out for distribution, due to concerns over the rapid spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., March 24, 2020. (REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs/File Photo)

BY DAVID SHEPARDSON AND BEN KLAYMAN

General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co got dragged into the political war over much-needed ventilators for coronavirus patients Friday as U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out at the automakers for moving too slowly just hours before GM said it would build medical equipment at an Indiana plant.

Trump criticized the U.S. automakers and promised he would announce the federal purchase of an undisclosed number of ventilators later on Friday. He also warned he might invoke the Defense Production Act if the automakers didn’t move quickly.

The attack on the automakers coincided with rising tension between Trump and the Democratic governors of New York and Michigan, who have criticized the administration’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic. On Thursday evening, Trump questioned in an interview on the Fox News network whether New York state needed 30,000 ventilators to cope with rising numbers of coronavirus patients, as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had said.

GM <GM.N> and Ford <F.N> separately announced earlier this week they were working with medical equipment companies to help boost ventilator production.

GM and its partner Ventec Life Systems confirmed after Trump’s tweets that the No. 1 U.S. automaker would deploy 1,000 workers to build ventilators at its Kokomo, Indiana, parts plant and ship as soon as next month. It was aiming to build more than 10,000 per month with the ability to go higher. Suppliers in the effort were told the target was 200,000 ventilators.

But early Friday, before GM issued its release, Trump attacked the automaker and Chief Executive Mary Barra on Twitter, reviving his grievance with Barra for closing and selling a car factory in Ohio, a state critical to the president’s re-election campaign.

“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!!!!!!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Friday.

“They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed ventilators, ‘very quickly’,” 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.”

Trump tweeted he may “Invoke the “P,” and clarified he meant the Defense Production Act. The act grants the president power to expand industrial production of any key materials or products for national security and other reasons. Cuomo and other Democrats have urged him to invoke the act, but the president has been reluctant to do so.

Trump’s comments about GM and Ford came after a New York Times story Thursday suggested the White House had backed away from announcing a major ventilator deal with GM and Ventec because the price tag was too high. That drew criticism from Democrats.

Following 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 <GE.N> to boost production of simplified ventilators.”

Other automakers have said they are working to produce ventilators, masks and other medical equipment.

On Friday, Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> said it was “finalizing agreements to begin working with at least two companies that produce ventilators and respirators to help increase their capacity.”

New York City Mayor Bill be Blasio on Friday said on Twitter that Tesla Inc <TSLA.O> 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 carmaker was helping locate and deliver existing ventilators.

Tesla on Friday did not respond to a request for comment on where it got the ventilators from and whether the company was producing any ventilators of its own, something Musk has said the company will do.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) and Ferrari <RACE.MI> previously said they were exploring making ventilators in Italy.

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