Germany Asks Auto Giants to Make Medical Gear to Fight Virus

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The German government asked domestic car manufacturers to consider producing medical equipment such as masks or ventilators to help fight the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

The request forms part of wider efforts by authorities to tap engineering and production resources and tackle severe supply bottlenecks in critical medical equipment, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the talks aren’t public.

“This is a company decision. Companies have to take the decision themselves,” said a spokesperson for the country’s economy ministry.

Political leaders in the U.S. and Europe have intensified talks over engaging private companies across industries in the battle against the virus as health care systems reel from a surging number of infections and fatalities. At some Spanish hospitals, doctors and nurses have even resorted to taping garbage sacks to their arms to shield themselves after running out of disposable coats.

A spokesman for carmaker Volkswagen AG said in an emailed statement the company is in talks with authorities and has forged an international task force to explore options. While medical equipment was a new venture for the firm, it could start production as soon as it receives the necessary information, he said.

The firm has more than 125 industrial 3-D printers that have so far been mainly used to build components for vehicle prototypes, the spokesman added.

Daimler, Musk

Volkswagen Chief Executive Officer Herbert Diess said Saturday the manufacturer started building up production capacity for protective masks in China, and is supporting German authorities with temperature measuring devices, masks, disinfectants and diagnostic equipment.

Daimler AG has received requests from authorities and is currently exploring options, a company spokesman said by phone on Sunday. VW and Daimler have also agreed to donate more than 300,000 protective masks from their existing resources to health organizations.

The virus crisis is crippling economies the world over. Germany’s will shrink by 5% this year due to the impact of the pandemic, the Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported Sunday, citing calculations taken from the government’s supplemental budget.

Over the past week, companies unrelated to the medical-device industry have offered to retool factories to help make equipment to treat the afflicted. Ferrari NV and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV are in talks with Italy’s biggest ventilator manufacturer to help boost its output, while in the U.S, General Motors Co. has said it could use some excess factory space to build hospital ventilators.

Elon Musk, the billionaire chief executive officer of Tesla Inc. who initially downplayed the risks posed by the virus, tweeted Saturday that he had talked with Medtronic Plc about making ventilators.

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Medtronic said earlier in the week it will more than double its capacity to make and supply ventilators to fight the global pandemic, with the machines playing a critical role in assisting patients with respiratory functions.

— With assistance by Hailey Waller, John Follain, and Laura Millan Lombrana

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