Fiat Chrysler announced today that while U.S. plants that build vehicles like the 2020 Ram 1500 are shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the company is converting a plant in China to produce face masks. FCA says it will donate more than 1 million face masks per month. The plant is being converted this week and will start manufacturing the masks in the coming weeks.
Fiat Chrysler Helping People on the Frontline
According to FCA, the protective face masks will be donated to police, EMTs, firefighters and workers in hospitals and health care clinics. The face masks will be distributed initially in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The face masks are also expected to help medical workers in Italy, which has also been devastated by COVID-19.
FCA CEO Mike Manley said: “Protecting our first responders and health care workers has never been more important. In addition to the support we are giving to increase the production of ventilators, we canvassed our contacts across the healthcare industry and it was very clear that there is an urgent and critical need for face masks. We’ve marshalled the resources of the FCA Group to focus immediately on installing production capacity for making masks and supporting those most in need on the front line of this pandemic.”
FCA is also reportedly using its manufacturing and supply chains to investigate helping build medical equipment. The company expects to be making more announcements about its other endeavors soon.
FCA Was First To Close A Michigan Plant Because of the Virus
FCA was on the front lines of the decisions to shut down the plants after a worker at its Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, known as SHAP) tested positive for the Coronavirus, or COVID- 19. SHAP builds the wildly popular 2020 Ram 1500. After making the announcement that the plants would close temporarily, Fiat Chrysler released a statement saying, “Working with the UAW and listening to the concerns of our people, we have agreed to cease production at our plants across North America, starting progressively from today through the end of March. While production is paused, the Company will put actions into place to facilitate the steps agreed to through the joint task-force set up between the UAW and the automakers. Through this period, which we will re-evaluate at the end of this month, FCA will work to enhance its manufacturing operations to facilitate the changes agreed with the UAW including shift timings, structures and enhanced cleaning protocols.”
Unfortunately, FCA was also forced to restrict access to much of its headquarters complex in Auburn Hills, Michigan, after the death of a non-union employee from COVID-19. It is unclear at this point, how the man may have contracted the virus or how many other employees he worked in close contact with. There is no indication how long the closures will continue.
Industry-Wide Automotive Effort
General Motors and Ford are also helping in the fight against COVID-19. The two companies are trying to help speed of the manufacturing of medical ventilators. The two companies are using their supply chains and manufacturing expertise to help convert facilities to manufacture the needed ventilators.
General Motors has already partnered with a company called Ventec Life Systems, to try and enable Ventec to increase production of its products. General Motors will lend Ventec its expertise in logistics, purchasing and manufacturing.
"We are working closely with Ventec to rapidly scale up production of their critically important respiratory products to support our country's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic," said Mary Barra, GM Chairman and CEO. "We will continue to explore ways to help in this time of crisis."
Unclear Who Will Do the Manufacturing
It is unclear at this point if General Motors will actually do any of the production work or if its help will be more in the purchasing of needed parts, or in speeding up the supply chain and distribution network. Crain’s Detroit Business reported “It's unclear whether GM is establishing another assembly line at Ventec's production plant or will manufacture the additional ventilators at one of its plants.” GM has been contacting a number of its suppliers trying to spur production of parts for ventilator compressors. It may be difficult to get UAW members to participate in the actual production as much of their work is strictly governed under local contracts.
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