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A New Arsenal? Trump Greenlights US Automakers To Produce Ventilators, Other Metal Products

Jason Shubnell

U.S. automakers shut down their North American plants this week to help curb the coronavirus outbreak. But that doesn't mean they'll stop working.

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What Happened

Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F), General Motors (NYSE: GM) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE: FCAU) agreed last week to close factories due to worker fears about the coronavirus. Electric automaker Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) soon followed suit, announcing it will temporarily suspend production at its Fremont factory as local authorities imposed restrictions on businesses.

GM CEO Mary Barra last week had told the Trump administration the automaker was studying how it could potentially support production of medical equipment like ventilators. Now, the automakers been "given the go ahead to make ventilators and other metal products," according to U.S. President Donald Trump.

"President Trump signed the Defense Production Act last week which permits the administration to draft the American industry into manufacturing needed medical supplies during a crisis," according to The Hill.

As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to spread, hospitals and other medical facilities have become overrun with patients and could soon run out of the necessary medical equipment.

A New Arsenal?

During World War II in the 1940s, Detroit became known as "The Arsenal of Democracy," a phrase coined by President Franklin Roosevelt at the time.

"The Detroit-area’s automobile industry underwent rapid transition in order to handle the production of weapons and vehicles of war," according to the Detroit Historical Society. "Factories halted the production of automobiles for civilian use and began rapidly producing jeeps, M-5 tanks, and B-24 bombers. By the summer of 1944, Ford’s Willow Run plant cranked out one bomber an hour."

Crain's Detroit Business reported some suppliers are already at work.

"Parts suppliers for General Motors Co. are preparing to manufacture parts for at least 200,000 ventilators in an effort to stave off a projected shortage of the machines in the fight against the deadly respiratory illness COVID-19," according to Crain's Dustin Walsh.

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General Motors CEO Mary Barra in June 2017. Photo by Dustin Blitchok.

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