Over the past week, President Donald Trump had claimed he was planning to invoke Defense Production Act powers that would allow his administration to compel private businesses to create products currently on short supply due to the coronavirus crisis.
But Trump reneged on that promise, telling reporters over the weekend that it wasn’t necessary as private enterprises were already doing so without his demanding of it.
“General Motors, Ford, so many companies — I had three calls yesterday directly, without having to institute like: ‘You will do this’ — these companies are making them right now,” Trump said on Saturday during a White House press briefing.
Trump’s claims that GM, Ford making ventilators ‘right now’ not true https://t.co/Nxj3tXaeRm
— Grand Rapids Press (@GRPress) March 23, 2020
It turns out, when Trump means “right now,” what he really means is not at all — and possibly not ever.
According to a report from Michigan-based MLive, neither company is currently in the process of making ventilators or other necessary products to help with the fight against COVID-19.
MLive reporter Bob Johnson explained:
“No automaker is anywhere close to making medical gear such as ventilators and remain months away — if not longer.”
The report also stated that it may not even be possible to transform the auto plants into ventilator-making production sites at all, at least without the federal government ordering such a transition to take place.
GM announced on Friday it would work with a ventilator production company to help increase the numbers, but said it’s help is limited to logistics and purchasing — the company “stopped short of saying it would make ventilators in its own factories,” MLive added.
When President Trump tweeted on Sunday that he had given automakers the “go ahead” to start producing ventilators and other equipment desperately needed in the coronavirus pandemic, no one seemed to know what the pronouncement meant https://t.co/f437zjsNkb
— Jordan Fabian (@Jordanfabian) March 23, 2020
“Unless automakers can move with unprecedented speed, redirecting plants to make completely different products will take a long time — possibly too long to help with medical gear shortages,” the report said.
Separate reporting from the Associated Press showcased how difficult such a transition would be.
“When you are repurposing a factory, it really depends on how similar the new product is to the existing products in your product line,” industrial supply chain expert and Notre Dame professor Kaitlin Wowak explained. “It’s going to be a substantial pivot to start producing an entirely different item.”
Chris Walker is a freelance journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin, who focuses on news, politics, and analysis of world events. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, since 2005 Chris has reported on workers’ rights protests in Wisconsin, opined on four separate presidential elections and written on a number of other political subjects for a variety of national online publications.