The last few weeks have been intense. A world wide pandemic broke out. General Motors stepped up to help build a product they don’t normally even dabble in- ventilators. The country cheered and the President gave them crap for being too expensive before changing his tune to one of praise for the automaker. With so many accusations being flung around, here’s what’s really going on inside GM’s partnership with Ventec to build life saving and dearly needed medical equipment.
We crawled Facebook for people close to those connected to the situation. We also looked for articles that laid out the timeline from GM’s first announcement to Trump’s invoking of the Defense Production Act last week.
Here’s what we’ve found:
On Facebook, Guy Gorden from WJR Radio in Detroit laid out a very succinct timeline of GM’s efforts in a now widely shared post:
The post, since shared by members of GM’s executive team lays out the timeline like this:
Wednesday 3/18: GM Chairperson Mary Barra reaches out to White House Chief Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow and offers GM’s manufacturing and engineering capacity to fulfill the need for medical supplies. (Source: Axios, GM and White House)
Friday 3/20 GM and Ventec, a ventilator manufacturer from the Seattle area, announce they are undertaking a feasibility project to determine whether they can jointly initiate rapidly expanded production. (GM and Ventec joint release)
By Monday 3/23 GM and Ventec not only prove feasibility, but designate GM’s former electronics facility in Kokomo, Ind. as the “clean” facility for production. The UAW is asked to begin recruiting volunteers. It’s a labor intensive project and may need as many as 1,000 workers. GM’s purchasing chief informs Barra he has commitments from nearly all the suppliers needed for 700 components. He is confident the remaining 37 components can be sourced. (GM, Axios and Reuters)
Tuesday 3/24 Axios and Reuters report GM’s incredible progress. Ventec is told to anticipate an announcement from the White House about the impending contract. Ventec is ready to go but has still not received direction from the feds on how many ventilators it is ordering, making cost quotes per unit more difficult to estimate.
Wednesday 3/25 Without explanation the White House cancels the announcement and Ventec is told there will be no contract. Late that evening Ventec and GM agree to move forward anyway. GM agrees to help clear Ventec’s 20,000 unit back-order at cost. Essentially they agree to build a decade’s worth of ventilators in less than 2 months.
Thursday 3/26. NYT reports White House balks because they are trying to decide between different vendors who they believe can offer lower cost options. Ventec and GM prepare to announce their formal production agreement on Friday.
Friday 3/27 President threatens in 2 tweets to invoke “P” (Defense Production Act) against GM. Suggests they should build ventilators at Lordstown, a plant the White House knows GM no longer owns. They are also aware a much more practical electronics plant was chosen for production. He also insults Mary Barra who made the initial offer with prompting from no one.
Within 90 minutes, Ventec and GM announce their plans for production. They have hired 1,000 workers, a full shift, and have the sourcing to make 200,000 ventilators. They have printed training manuals and intend to start training in the new work week. All of these plans and progress occur well before any implied or actual threat from President Trump.
Friday Evening: The President announces he is invoking the Defense Production Act. It will not get things built any faster, but does eliminate the red tape normally associated with government contracting.
Larry Foltran, one of the leads on GM’s side of the Ventilator Project shared this post:
News media have been reporting on the timeline, and GM’s efforts despite the criticism, as well.
“The following day, Phil Kienle, G.M.’s head of manufacturing for North America, and a few other executives flew to Ventec’s headquarters in Bothell, Wash. Early on Friday, March 20, the G.M. team sat down with Ventec executives to learn how the ventilators are made, and what parts are required. Ventec had already started a push to ramp up production to 1,000 a month. The group concluded that with G.M.’s resources, 20,000 a month would be possible, four people familiar with the talks said.”
“I’m pretty amazed at what they’ve done,” said Kristin Dziczek, vice president for industry and economics at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. “But automotive production involves a massive supply chain, and G.M. has risen to the occasion on other big manufacturing challenges.”
“Newly revealed details show that GM has been continuously engaged in the effort — order or no order — and company officials say the sprint from first phone call to production will take about a month. A parallel effort by Ford Motor Co. isn’t expected to bear fruit until June, though the company has said it’s speeding up its work. Trump did an about-face Sunday, saying GM is doing a “fantastic job.””
“GM said it’s building the units at cost and is only the contract manufacturer for Ventec, which is the major player in negotiations with the government. The machines normally cost about $18,000 apiece, while some ventilators can run as high as $50,000.
Another benefit of Ventec’s VOCSN is it replaces four other pieces of hardware typically needed for acute respiratory care. Using it could lower costs for hospitals because they won’t need to buy oxygenators, nebulizers and devices to clear the lungs.
When Trump complained last week about pricing, people in the GM-Ventec venture thought that the device’s five-in-one therapy capabilities may not have been completely understood. People familiar with negotiations said there never was a firm proposal on volume or a timeline, and they were caught off guard when the president complained.”
“President Donald Trump, who excoriated General Motors Co on Friday and invoked emergency powers to compel the production of badly needed ventilators to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, has abruptly shifted gears to praise the automaker.”
““No later than mid-April we expect to be up and running ventilators,” Johnson said, noting the ventilators will need U.S. regulatory approval, significant testing and that the company must train over 1,000 workers to assemble them.
GM has been working with ventilator firm Ventec Life Systems, numerous auto suppliers and other ventilator firms as officials warn the United States may need tens of thousands of additional ventilators.
“We’re unwavering in our focus to get this done,” Johnson said.”