Car companies across North America – including the Detroit 'Big Three' – are going above and beyond to assist health authorities battle the coronavirus
US car giant General Motors is about to make its first significant shipment of ventilators after transforming one of its manufacturing facilities, while Ford is making hospital gowns out of airbag material, and FCA (Chrysler, Jeep, Ram, Dodge) is urging its customers to "#StayOffTheRoad".
Foreign brands are also stepping up to help, with South Korea's Hyundai providing funding and further access to testing, while Volkswagen provides free vehicles to transport essential supplies, and Toyota and Nissan offer US customers varying levels of payment relief.
On Tuesday, General Motors revealed it had begun producing critical care ventilators in partnership with medical company Ventec Life Systems, with plans to deliver the first batch of around 600 to the government later this month.
The efforts come after GM was issued a US$489.4 million (AU$763.7 million) contract by the US Department of Health and Human Services, converting its Indiana manufacturing facility to create 30,000 ventilators by the end of August.
Thousands of men and women mobilized to transform our Kokomo, IN, plant into a ventilator manufacturing facility to support those on the frontlines of the #COVID19 crisis. Learn more about how we accomplished this massive transition in less than a month: https://t.co/hE5m9HyyHk pic.twitter.com/Xj798lnt9c— General Motors (@GM) April 14, 2020
Ford announced on Monday it would start producing "a new powered air-purifying respirator" at its Vreeland facility – with scope to make 100,000 or more with the assistance of paid volunteers from America's United Auto Workers union.
Additionally, the company said it was creating face masks for internal use globally, but was "pursuing certification for medical use" for the masks, as well as manufacturing reusable hospital gowns from airbag materials and providing support to scale external production of COVID-19 test collection kits.
The third of Detroit's 'Big Three' manufacturers, Fiat Chrysler, this week revived its 2020 Super Bowl Jeep ad starring Bill Murray in order to urge customers to "stay home" and "stay healthy". The company also issued similar video pleas via its Ram Trucks and Fiat brands.
Meanwhile, the North American arm of South Korean car company Hyundai announced it had raised US$4 million (AU$6.2 million) in grants to fund support for drive-through testing at 22 hospitals in the US, plus the provision of 65,000 donated coronavirus testing kits.
According to CNET, the kits – which have been sourced from South Korea – will be rolled out in hard-hit areas like New Orleans, Detroit and Chicago.
Last month, Hyundai also revived Hyundai Assurance Job Loss Protection Program, allowing owners to defer payments on select new cars by 90 days and providing up to six months of payment relief for customers disadvantaged by job losses.
Another overseas brand contributing to American efforts is Germany's Volkswagen, which announced on Monday its US-based dealers would supply cars for free delivery of essential supplies.
Volkswagen said its dealership network would mobilise their more than 7000 loan cars, driven by dealership employees, to collect and deliver supplies to those unable to leave their homes.
“Only dealership employees will be permitted to drive the vehicles. Volkswagen corporate will offer dealers a daily stipend per vehicle to cover fuel and lease costs,” the automaker said, according to Reuters.