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By David Shepardson and Ben Klayman
WASHINGTON/DETROIT- U.S. President Donald Trump blasted General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co on Friday, calling on the two U.S. automakers to quickly build badly needed ventilators for COVID-19 patients and suggesting he might invoke the Defense Production Act to force the companies to move faster.
GM and Ford separately announced this week that they are working with companies to help boost ventilator production. Many Democrats including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo have urged Trump to invoke the act, which grants the president the power to expand industrial production of key materials or products for national security and other reasons.
Trump also attacked GM for closing an Ohio factory last year. GM sold the Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant last year to an electric truck start-up.
"General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!! FORD, GET GOING ON VENTILATORS, FAST!!!!!!" Trump wrote on Twitter.
"They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed ventilators, 'very quickly'. Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar."
GM and its partner Ventec Life Systems on Friday confirmed the No.1 U.S. automaker will build ventilators at its Kokomo, Indiana parts plant and ship as soon as next month.
A source familiar with the plans said GM would start building prototypes within two weeks and begin shipping "significant" numbers by end of April and increase production from there.
Ford said it was moving as fast as it could to gear up its ventilator manufacturing efforts.
"Ford is pulling out all the stops to quickly and safely provide vitally needed equipment for patients, first responders and healthcare workers," the company said in a statement. "We have teams working flat-out with GE Healthcare to boost production of simplified ventilators."
"Ford is in active conversations with the administration, seeking guidance about approvals, scope and distribution relating to a series of products, including ventilators," Ford added. "We’ll provide more detail on timing and production figures as soon as possible."
Trump's comments came after a New York Times story Thursday suggested the White House had backed away from announcing a major ventilator deal with GM and Ventec because the price tag was too high. That drew significant criticism from Democrats.
Other automakers have said they are working on ventilators. On Friday, Toyota Motor Corp said it was "finalizing agreements to begin working with at least two companies that produce ventilators and respirators to help increase their capacity."
(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Diane Craft)