Auto industry steps up a gear to make emergency ventilators

Auto firms are joining the global race to build ventilators for virus victims. (AP)
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Updated 02 April 2020

Auto industry steps up a gear to make emergency ventilators

  • US President Donald Trump used wartime economy analogies to justify his appeal to the automobile industry as the country grapples with a mounting number of coronavirus cases

PARIS: The automotive industry is offering its expertise and manpower to the hospital sector as it gears up to build mechanical ventilators during the coronavirus pandemic, an initiative that is being met with some skepticism.

American auto manufacturers General Motors and Ford, French car companies PSA and Renault, and Formula 1 engineers have joined the ranks in response to a massive global shortage of the vital piece of medical equipment.

As hospitals around the world face a surge of patients with breathing difficulties from coronavirus, the scarcity of ventilators has forced doctors to make life-or-death decisions.

Repurposing car factories for emergency production has drawn comparisons to World War II, when they were used to build tanks and fighter planes.

But some experts say that in this situation, building critical care ventilators will require different techniques and procedures from what a car factory normally sees.

US President Donald Trump used wartime economy analogies to justify his appeal to the automobile industry as the country grapples with a mounting number of coronavirus cases. He ultimately used a 1950s law concerning defense production to force one of GM’s plants to make ventilators.


In France, meanwhile, a consortium of industrial companies has been created — including PSA and automotive equipment supplier Valeo — to manufacture “10,000 ventilators by mid-May,” President Emmanuel Macron announced.

Mercedes has asked its Formula 1 team, left idle due to postponed or canceled Grand Prix races, to get to work. The six-time world champion team built a less-invasive respiratory device in order to reserve ventilators for the most severely affected patients.

The team says it could manufacture some 1,000 units a day with the help of six other UK-based F1 teams which have committed to help build the devices.

A version of the device, which increases air and oxygen flow into the lungs and is often used to treat sleep apnea, has already been used in hospitals in Italy and China to help coronavirus patients.

The Project Pitlane mission takes advantage of “the core skills of the F1 industry: rapid design, prototype manufacture, test and skilled assembly,” Formula 1 said.

Some look skeptically on the car industry’s entry into the world of medical equipment, however.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a non-profit organization, said that car manufacturers are not best placed for assembling medical equipment.

“Ventilators might resemble the pumps and air conditioners used in automobiles, but few automakers build their own — they buy them from specialized producers,” the group said.


Project Pitlane

The Project Pitlane mission takes advantage of the core skills of the F1 industry.

New emissions blow for VW as German court backs damages claims

Updated 26 May 2020

New emissions blow for VW as German court backs damages claims

  • Scandal has already cost firm more than €30 billion; ruling serves as template for about 60,000 cases

KARLSRUHE, Germany: Volkswagen must pay compensation to owners of vehicles with rigged diesel engines in Germany, a court ruled on Monday, dealing a fresh blow to the automaker almost 5 years after its emissions scandal erupted.

The ruling by Germany’s highest court for civil disputes, which will allow owners to return vehicles for a partial refund of the purchase price, serves as a template for about 60,000 lawsuits that are still pending with lower German courts.

Volkswagen admitted in September 2015 to cheating in emissions tests on diesel engines, a scandal which has already cost it more than €30 billion ($33 billion) in regulatory fines and vehicle refits, mostly in the US.

US authorities banned the affected cars after the cheat software was discovered, triggering claims for compensation.

But in Europe vehicles remained on the roads, leading Volkswagen to argue compensation claims there were without merit. European authorities instead forced the company to update its engine control software and fined it for fraud and administrative lapses.

Volkswagen said on Monday it would work urgently with motorists on an agreement that would see them hold on to the vehicles for a one-off compensation payment.

It did not give an estimate of how much the ruling by the German federal court, the Bundesgerichtshof (BGH), might cost it.

Volkswagen shares were 0.5 percent lower. The BGH’s presiding judge had signaled earlier this month he saw grounds for compensation.

Costs mount

“The verdict by the BGH draws a final line. It creates clarity on the BGH’s views on the underlying questions in the diesel proceedings for most of the 60,000 cases still pending,” Volkswagen said.

A lower court in the city of Koblenz had previously ruled the owner of a VW Sharan minivan had suffered pre-meditated damage, entitling him to reimbursement minus a discount for the mileage the motorist had already
benefited from.

The court at the time said he should be awarded €25,600 for the used-car purchase he made for €31,500 in 2014.

“We have in principle confirmed the verdict from the Koblenz upper regional court,” said BGH presiding federal judge Stephan Seiters.

Volkswagen had petitioned for the ruling to be quashed altogether by the higher court, while the plaintiff had appealed to have the deduction removed.

A Volkswagen spokesman said that outside Germany, more than 100,000 claims for damages were still pending, of which 90,000 cases were in Britain.

The carmaker also said it had paid out a total of €750 million to more than 200,000 separate claimants in Germany who had opted against individual claims and instead joined a class action lawsuit brought by a German consumer group.

The carmaker said last month it would set aside a total of 830 million for that deal.

In a separate court, Volkswagen agreed last week to pay €9 million to end proceedings against its chairman and chief executive, who were accused of withholding market-moving information before the emissions scandal came to light.