Volkswagen battery cell plant, Salzgitter

The German government has asked domestic car manufacturers to consider producing medical equipment such as masks and ventilators in efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Automotive News Europe reported.

The request comes as part of the country’s wider efforts to harness engineering and production resources towards overcoming equipment supply bottlenecks for critical medical equipment, according to individuals familiar with the matter, the reports said. “This is a company decision. Companies have to take the decision themselves,” a spokesperson for the economy ministry said.

Volkswagen said on Friday that it has assembled a task force to explore the possibilities of 3D-printing for the manufacture of hospital ventilators and other life-saving equipment, and while medical equipment is a new venture for the company, it could start production as soon as it receives the required information, a Volkswagen spokesman said.

Volkswagen has 125 industrial 3D printers that has mainly been used for making vehicle component prototypes, he added. Chief executive officer Herbert Diess said that capacity for producing protective masks in China has been increased, as well as supporting German authorities with temperature-measuring devices, masks, disinfectants and diagnostic equipment.

Volkswagen battery cell plant, Salzgitter

Fellow German automaker Daimler has also received requests from the authorities, and it is currently exploring options, a Daimler spokesman told Automotive News Europe. Volkswagen and Daimler have agreed to donate more than 300,000 protective masks collectively from their existing resources to health organisations, the report said.

Further afield in Italy, Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are in talks with the country’s largest manufacturer of ventilators, Siare Engineering to help increase production of ventilator equipment.

Meanwhile in the United States, General Motors is working with medical device manufacturer Ventec Life Systems to leverage the US automaker’s logistics and expertise to build more ventilators, the report added, with GM saying it has excess factory space available for this purpose.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted last week that he had been in talks with Medtronic for the production of ventilators, and Medtronic said it will increase its capacity for making ventilators by more than double.