The automotive industry has always been a central part of American life. Without automobiles, our lives would be a lot worse. No travel. No vacation. No exploration. We couldn’t even go to work or drop our kids off at school without a horse and buggy. During the coronavirus pandemic, the auto industry proved they have even more to offer our society than the freedom of mobility. They’re also capable of rapidly producing life-saving devices at a massive scale.

Due to fears about a shortage of medical equipment when we need it most, President Trump deployed the Defense Production Act. I don’t know a lot about politics. But I do know he cleared red tape that makes our supply chains a lot slower. With the red tape out of the way, automotive giants like Tesla and General Motors (GM) shifted gears and produced mass quantities of supplies for the brave nurses and doctors who save American lives everyday.

Ventilators are huge. The coronavirus makes it hard to breathe. And if we can’t breathe, we die. Simplification? Yep (I’m a car doctor, not a real one). But that’s the jist of the story. If a patient can’t breathe in life-saving oxygen, the ventilator will do it for them. It’s like jumper cables. They keep your car alive until you can reach a mechanic. Ventilators keep people alive until they can be healed. See why they are super important? 

GM’s first shipment of 30,000 ventilators arrived at Chicago hospitals last week. No profit here. The materials are being produced at cost. The auto industry’s positive impact was confirmed by Weiss Memorial Hospital CEO Mary Shehan: “These ventilators are a much-needed infusion of critical resources to care for our patients, which includes a significant elderly population.”

Meanwhile, Tesla is also helping in a creative way. Parts of their Model 3 cars are also suitable for ventilators. And since those are already being manufactured in a high quantity and quality, it makes sense to repurpose them for medical devices. While Tesla hasn’t reached GM’s scale, they have donated a helpful and respectable 1,200 ventilators to California hospitals

Coronavirus related layoffs and job losses are hitting the automakers just like the rest of us. Ford plans to reopen soon, but not before revealing their own innovation. They are testing a “social distancing smartwatch” that vibrates to warn folks when they get too close to a coworker. We’ve gotta reopen the economy someday. Wonder if they’ll share that resource?