Canadian automakers are taking a hard look at how they can help ramp up production of face masks, ventilators and other equipment as a rising tide of COVID-19 cases threatens to overwhelm the country’s hospitals.
Some of the measures automakers could take include re-purposing their idle assembly plants to bolster Canadian supplies, according Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA), which is co-ordinating much of the industry’s effort.
“The APMA has been working directly with Toyota and Honda in the COVID-19 effort with engagement at the highest levels. They have been eager partners in our quest to get supplies where they need to be in very short order,” said APMA Flavio Volpe said in a text message to Automotive News Canada.
That includes “discussing and assessing” whether their assembly plants could be used to make medical equipment, Volpe said.
Asked about its plans for its assembly plants, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada said it “is currently connecting with industrial partners and governments to discuss the potential fabrication of components used in medical equipment, including ventilators.”
Toyota has three automotive assembly plants in Ontario; two in Cambridge and one in Woodstock.
Toyota had previously announced it is working with Inksmith, a Kitchener, Ont.-based 3D printing company that is making face shields for medical workers.
“There will be more added to that page as it gets confirmed,” Toyota Canada spokesman David Shum wrote in an email, referring to the automaker’s corporate website.
At Honda Canada, spokesman John Bordignon said, “We continue to explore more ways we can help in the fight against this pandemic….we will be announcing those when we have finalized the details.”
Honda has two assembly plants in Alliston, Ont. Its parent company is currently using 3D printing facilities at a U.S. plant to make face shields for healthcare workers.
Together, five global automakers operate seven assembly plants, three engine plants and a transmission factory in Ontario, all of them idle as auto sales plummet amid a global economic shutdown aimed at containing the virus.
To date, the automakers’ efforts in Canada have been focused on advising local suppliers and supporting efforts by their parent companies to tackle the global pandemic. The number of confirmed cases worldwide eclipsed one million Thursday, with more than 50,000 deaths. Canada’s share was 10,132 confirmed cases, with 131 deaths by late Thursday.
But, federal and provincial governments have stepped up their COVID-19 efforts by providing funding and removing red tape for manufacturers prepared to retool their operations to produce desperately-need medical supplies.
General Motors Canada said a number of its engineers are involved with the parent company’s efforts to make ventilators at its Kokomo, Ind., plant, for Washington-based Ventec Life Systems.
“GM Canada engineers are working on some of the US ventilator ramp-up projects like Ventec,” said GM Canada spokesman David Paterson. “It’s a huge effort of coordination and international support with hundreds of people engaged around the clock from engineering to logistics and supply chain to manufacturing.”
FCA Canada and Ford of Canada pointed to initiatives outside the country but said they’re continuing to look at ways they can help.
“The first plant being used for mask production is in China,” FCA Canada spokeswoman Lou Ann Gosselin said in an email. “We are evaluating other facilities. We'll continue to monitor the situation. We are looking at all possible ways to help.”
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced March 23 that it’s racing to produce more than one million protective masks per month for distribution to the United States, Canada and Mexico.
A Ford of Canada spokesperson said: “At this time, we are manufacturing all of the medical PPE [personal protective equipment] in our U.S. plants.”
The Canadian companies all said they have donated face masks and other personal protective equipment to front-line health care workers, and offered financial relief to their automobile customers during the crisis.