UK automotive manufacturing firms could be asked to produce ventilators for the NHS, as the health service’s resources are put under heavy strain due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Reports suggest Prime Minister Boris Johnson will speak today (16 March) to engineering firms and vehicle manufacturers, including Ford, Honda, Rolls-Royce and JCB, to discuss whether their production lines could be used to build medical equipment. At present, the NHS is said to have only around 5000 ventilators at its disposal.
A Ford spokesperson confirmed that the firm had been approached by the government, and said: “we want to help where we can in the current situation and we have been approached on this specific matter and are currently in discussion." The firm currently produces vehicle parts at Bridgend and Dagenham.
Meanwhile, Honda said: “We have been contacted by government about the feasibility of Honda supporting the manufacture of additional ventilators.” The firm’s Swindon plant currently produces the Honda Civic hatchback, but according to the Financial Times, discussions with the NHS regarded whether there is room for new, bespoke medical equipment lines, rather than existing tooling being repurposed.
Toyota said it has not been contacted directly, but a company representative said the firm would be "more than willing" to investigate how it could be of assistance.
Although Rolls-Royce could be contacted, it's not clear whether the government is targeting the Derbyshire aerospace facility or the Goodwood factory that produces Rolls-Royce-badged cars including the Phantom Rolls-Royce Phantom, Rolls-Royce Dawn, Rolls-Royce Wraith, Rolls-Royce Cullinan and Rolls-Royce Ghost luxury cars. A company spokesperson told Autocar that the firm has not yet been approached by the government.
A Downing Street statement said: “Preparing for the spread of the coronavirus outbreak is a national priority and we're calling on the manufacturing industry and all those with relevant expertise who might be able to help to come together to help the country tackle this national crisis.
"We need to step up production of vital equipment such as ventilators so that we can all help the most vulnerable, and we need businesses to come to us and help in this national effort."
Anthony Bamford, chairman of Staffordshire-based JCB, said: “We have been approached by the Prime Minister to see if we can help with the production of ventilators. We have research and engineering teams actively looking at the request at the moment.
“It’s unclear as yet if we can assist, but as a British company, we will do whatever we can to help during the unprecedented times our country is facing.”