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GM, Ford wrap up ventilator production and shift back to auto business

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the United States, a number of automakers and other manufacturers announced plans to retrofit factories to help ease the shortage of personal protective gear and ventilators.

Now, two U.S. automakers have fulfilled their separate multi-million-dollar ventilator contracts — together delivering 80,000 of the devices to the U.S. government.

General Motors said Tuesday that it has completed its contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for 30,000 critical care ventilators delivered to the Strategic National Stockpile. GM said many of its ventilators have been deployed to hospitals. Ford has also completed its 50,000-ventilator contract, Bloomberg reported.

GM and Ford didn’t go it alone. Both automakers partnered with companies to accelerate the ramp up from 0 to thousands of ventilators within five months. GM partnered with Ventec Life Systems to produce ventilators at its engine plant in Kokomo, Ind., using about 1,000 workers. The GM-Ventec partnership grew out of  StopTheSpread.org, a coordinated effort of private companies to respond to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Ford teamed up with GE Healthcare to produce ventilators at the automaker’s Rawsonville Road plant in Michigan. Ford’s $336 million contract wrapped up August 28 when it shipped its final Model A-E ventilator unit. Ford’s contract was supposed to be fulfilled by mid-July, but said it was delayed by new suppliers that were ramping up parts production, according to Bloomberg. The company was granted an extension by HHS.

In the early days of the contracts, GM and Ford were criticized, and even attacked, by President Trump, although ultimately he applauded the efforts.

Both efforts stretched and showcased the capabilities of the automakers to convert portions of factories used to assemble vehicles and parts into facilities cranking out medical devices. Before GM even announced its partnership with Ventec, the automaker investigated the feasibility of sourcing more than 700 components needed to build Ventec’s critical care ventilators called VOCSN. Ventec describes these VOCSN devices as multi-function ventilators that were cleared in 2017 by the FDA.

GM initially estimated it would cost about $750 million, a price that included retrofitting a portion of the engine plant, purchasing materials to make the ventilators and paying the 1,000 workers needed to scale up production, the source said. However, the Trump Administration balked at the price tag, putting a contract with the U.S. government in limbo. Eventually, GM reached a $490 million contract with the federal government to produce 30,000 ventilators by the end of August. Under the contract, GM produced a different critical care ventilator from Ventec called the VOCSN V+Pro, a simpler device that has 400 parts. The other more expensive and complex machine had a multi-function capability.

Ford and GM also produced other medical supplies. Ford, which called its effort Project Apollo, said it produced more than 75 million pieces of personal protective equipment, including 19 million face shields, 42 million face masks,1.6 million washable isolation gowns and more than 32,000 powered air-purifying respirators in collaboration with 3M.

GM said its Warren facility has two production lines for face masks and a third line making N95 face respirators. To date, the facility has produced more than 10 million masks, with production going to employees at GM facilities or donated to community organizations, the company said.

Ford Bronco reservations surpass 150,000

The reception to Bronco 2021 — Ford’s flagship series of 4×4 vehicles that were revealed earlier this month — surpassed expectations of the company’s most optimistic initial projections, CEO Jim Hackett said in an earnings call Thursday. 

More than 150,000 customers have plunked down $100 to reserve a spot to order one of the vehicles, according to Ford. 

“We think this family of vehicles has big upside potential in the growing off-road category and this is a category with a leading OEM has not been seriously challenged until now,” Hackett said.

These are, of course, mere reservations, not actual orders. The deposits are refundable. Now, Ford is focused on the due diligence required to determine how many of these reservations will be converted to orders as it lay outs its manufacturing strategy for the brand.

The Ford Bronco 2 and Bronco 4 will be built at Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan. The Bronco Sport will be assembled at plant in Mexico. The company is now determining how many shifts to staff at each factory in order to match actual orders.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Ford COO Jim Farley said in a call with analysts Thursday. “But the mix is great.”

The Bronco is a brand that leans heavily on nostalgia, customization, functional design and technology, such as the automaker’s next-generation infotainment system and a digital trail mapping feature that lets owners plan, record and share their experiences via an app.

While the response to the Bronco has been palatable, there are a number of competitors also aiming to win over customers. GM released a video this week teasing its all-electric GMC Hummer. While the video was a promotional mashup of buzzwords, it also showed that GM had clearly identified Ford Bronco and Tesla Cybertruck as its main competitors. Then there’s electric upstart Rivian, which plans to start production of its EV pickup and SUV in 2021.

Ford Bronco debut date moved so it wouldn’t fall on O.J. Simpson’s birthday

Ford has changed the debut of its 2021 Bronco once again because its planned July 9 reveal falls on the birthday of O.J. Simpson, one of the iconic SUV’s most infamous passengers

The automaker tweeted Friday that it has moved the unveiling to July 13.

The reveal of the all-new Bronco lineup will now happen on Monday, July 13. This is instead of July 9. We are sensitive and respectful to some concerns raised previously about the date, which was purely coincidental.

— Ford Motor Company (@Ford) June 19, 2020

Here’s a short history lesson for those who might not understand why Simpson’s birthday and a Bronco are linked. In 1994, Simpson was charged in the double murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. He was involved in a slow speed chase as a passenger in a 1993 white Bronco driven by his friend after failing to turn himself in. The incident was broadcast on local and cable networks and the white Bronco became a pop culture moment. Simpson was acquitted.

Ford said that picking the debut date was coincidental.

The relaunch of the Bronco has been anticipated for years now. In 2017, Ford announced it was bringing back the Bronco after years of customer requests and speculation. The mid-size SUV that ended its 30-year production run in 1996 was supposed to debut in March. Then COVID-19 happened and well everything got cancelled, including numerous vehicle reveals.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk: New York gigafactory will reopen for ventilator production

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday that the company’s factory in Buffalo, New York will open “as soon as humanly possible” to produce ventilators that are in short supply due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

His comments, which were made Wednesday via Twitter, follows previous statements by the CEO outlining plans to either donate ventilators or work to increase production of the critical piece of medical equipment needed for patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by coronavirus. COVID-19 attacks the lungs and can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. And since there is no clinically proven treatment yet, ventilators are relied upon to help people breathe and fight the disease. There are about 160,000 ventilators in the United States and another 12,700 in the National Strategic Supply, the NYT reported.

Giga New York will reopen for ventilator production as soon as humanly possible. We will do anything in our power to help the citizens of New York.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 25, 2020

Last week, Tesla said in a statement it would suspend production at its Fremont, Calif. factory, where it assembles its electric vehicles, and its Buffalo, N.Y gigafactory, except for “those parts and supplies necessary for service, infrastructure and critical supply chains.”

It isn’t clear based on Musk’s statements when the Buffalo plant would reopen or how long it would take to convert a portion of its factory, which is used to produce solar panels. Musk didn’t say if this was part of a possible collaboration with Medtronic .

Medtronic CEO Omar Ishrak told CNBC on Wednesday that it is increasing capacity of its critical care ventilators and partnering with others such as Tesla. He said Medtronic is open sourcing one its lower end ventilators in less acute situations for others to, to make as quickly as they can. These lower end ventilators, which are easier to produce because there are fewer components, can be used as an intermediary step in critical care.

Tesla is one of several automakers, including GM, Ford and FCA that has pledged support to either donate supplies or offer resources to make more ventilators. Earlier this week, Ford said it is working with GE Healthcare to expand production capacity of a ventilator.

GM is working with Ventec Life Systems to help increase production of respiratory care products such as ventilators. Ventec will use GM’s logistics, purchasing and manufacturing expertise to build more ventilators. The companies did not provide further details such as when production might be able to ramp up or how many ventilators would be produced.

Workers at America’s largest companies are not covered under coronavirus aid package

Workers at America’s largest companies are not covered under a bill passed by the House of Representatives on Friday that is supposed to support American workers impacted by the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The bill still has to be voted on by the Senate and approved before it can be signed into law, but its structure leaves a gaping hole in the prevention strategy the government has said is necessary to reduce the COVID-19 outbreak in the US.

“No American worker should worry about missing a paycheck if they’re feeling ill,” said Vice President Mike Pence at the Sunday press briefing from the Coronavirus Task Force. “If you’re sick with a respiratory illness stay home.”

However, millions of Americans potentially don’t have the ability to make that choice under the congressional aid package touted by both Democrats and Republicans. By excluding companies with more than 500 employees from the Congressional aid, the health and welfare of millions of Americans in industries providing goods, manufacturing, and vital services to most of the country is being left up to the discretion of their employers.

Details of the legislative compromise were first reported by The New York Times yesterday. And chart published by The New York Times illustrated just how many companies didn’t have paid sick leave policies in place as the coronavirus began to spread in the US (companies have changed policies to respond to the coronavirus).

Image courtesy of The New York Times

Big technology companies took the lead early this month in changing policies for their workers and by the end of last week many of the country’s largest employers had followed suit. But it looks like their work won’t be covered under the government’s current plan — and that any measures to extend sick leave and paid time off will be limited to a response to the current outbreak.

These large employers have already responded by closing stores or reducing hours in areas where most cases of the novel coronavirus have been diagnosed — and companies operating in most of those states are required by law to offer paid leave to their hourly employees and contractors.

Companies who have responded to the outbreak by changing their time-off and sick leave policies include Walmart, Target, Darden Restaurants (the owner of the Olive Garden restaurant chain), Starbucks, Lowes, and KFC, have joined tech companies and gig economy businesses like Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Instacart, Microsoft, Postmates, Salesforce, and Uber in offering extended leave benefits to employees affected by the coronavirus.

These kinds of guarantees can go a long way to ensuring that hourly workers in the country don’t have to choose between their health and their employment. The inability to pass a law that would cover all workers puts everyone at risk.

Without government stepping in, industries are crafting their own responses. Late Sunday, automakers including GM, Ford, and FiatChrysler joined the United Auto Workers union in announcing the creation of a coronavirus task force to coordinate an industrywide response for the automotive sector.

As the Pew Research Center noted last week, the bill proposed by House Democrats had initially proposed temporary federal sick leave covering workers with COVID-19 or caring for family members with two-thirds of their wages for up to three months; expiring in January 2021. The measure would have also guaranteed private employers give workers seven days of paid sick leave with another 14 days available immediately in the event of future public health emergencies.

Most workers have less than nine days of sick leave covered under current state legislation. There is no national mandate for paid sick leave. After one year on the job, 22 percent of workers have access to less than five days, while another 46 percent of employees can get five-to-nine days of paid sick leave. Only 38 percent of workers have between ten and fourteen days of leave.

The Pew Research Center also reported that the lack of access to paid sick leave increases as wages decline. Over 90 percent of workers receiving hourly rages over $32.21 have some form of paid sick leave. Only about 50 percent of workers who make $13.80 or less have access to some form of paid sick leave. For Americans who make under $10.80 an hour, only about 30 percent receive any sick leave.

Take a look at the first all-electric Ford Mustang Mach-E. (It’s an SUV.)

Last week Ford thought it played it coy only revealing the name of its first all-electric vehicle (the Ford Mustang Mach-E), but after some simple poking around the Ford website, images, video, specs, and prices of the upcoming vehicles were leaked ahead of Sunday’s big reveal in Los Angeles. 

But the leaks, still posted on a Mach-E online forum, were accurate: Ford’s first EV does indeed look like a puffed up, oddly compact SUV version of its Mustang muscle car glory of the 1960s. The car is no longer two-door, but it’s still got the pony emblazoned on the front. Its Mustang Mach-E GT Performance Edition is the most reminiscent of the sporty Mustang of the past, with its zero-to-60 mph in mid-3 seconds and 459 horsepower abilities. Read more…

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‘Ford v. Ferrari’ sees Matt Damon and Christian Bale working on the ultimate race car

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Matt Damon and Christian Bale have teamed up to take on the most gruelling and prestigious car race in the world.

Ford v. Ferrari is based on the true story of the American car designer Carroll Shelby (Damon) and British-born driver Ken Miles (Bale), who link up to topple Ferrari’s dominance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans — the auto heavyweight had won six times in a row from 1960 to 1965.

The story is based on the creation of the Ford GT40, a revolutionary racing car which eventually won Le Mans in 1966. 

Ford v. Ferrari is in cinemas on Nov. 15. Read more…

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Tesla to recall 14,000 Model S cars in China over faulty Takata airbags

China’s top market regulator said on Friday that Tesla will recall a total of 14,123 imported Model S vehicles in the country over potentially deadly airbags.

The recall is part of an industry-wide crackdown on Takata-made front passenger airbags, which involves roughly 37 million vehicles including more mainstream brands such as Toyota and Ford, as noted by the United States Department of Transportation. These defective airbags use a propellant that might rupture the airbag and cause serious injuries, or even deaths.

Tesla has begun a worldwide recall of its sedans that use Takata airbags, the firm said on its Support blog. It noted that the airbags only become defective based on certain factors, such as age. The recall does not affect later Model S vehicles, Roadster, Model X, or its more affordable Model 3.

The China recall involves Model S cars manufactured between February 2014 to December 2016, shows a notice posted on the website of China’s State Administration for Market Regulation. TechCrunch has reached out to Tesla for comments and will update the article once more information is available.

The setback comes as Tesla is making a big push into the world’s largest auto market and tapping on Beijing’s effort to phase out fossil-fuel cars for China. The company recently reached an agreement with the Shanghai government to build its first Gigafactory outside the US, which will focus on making Model 3 cars for Chinese consumers. There is no target date for the factory to become fully operational yet.

Despite being an alluring market, China has been a major source of Tesla’s concerns over the past months due to escalating trade tensions and the rollback of government subsidies for green vehicles. Tesla responded by slashing its Model 3 price by 7.6 percent for China to neutralize heavy tariffs on imported cars.

The Palo Alto-based company previously recalled 8,898 Model S vehicles in China over corroding bolts, which it claimed at the time had not led to any accidents or injuries.

Ford patents a head rest specifically designed to hide a travel pillow

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-9-20-32-am Ford might have just solved a question that puzzled the automotive industry for eons: Where does one store a travel pillow in a car? On the floor? In the trunk? In an NPR tote bag in the backseat? Nope. Ford wants to store a travel pillow in the head rest, of course. This new patent filing by Ford illustrates a secret compartment built-into a vehicle’s head rest. There’s a… Read More

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Ford invests $1 billion in Pittsburgh-based Argo AI to build self-driving cars by 2021

City traffic at night Ford has invested $1 billion in a joint venture with Argo AI, a Pittsburgh-based company with ties to Carnegie Mellon. The goal is to completely outfit Ford vehicles with self-driving technology. Interestingly this isn’t a case of a large company simply hiring talent but the creation of an entirely separate company with an independent equity structure.
Ford is the “majority… Read More

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The day the infotainment died

Infiniti Q60 infotainment I wanted to review the 2017 Infiniti Q60 Red sports coupe, in particular its technology, because Infiniti is usually ahead of the curve when it comes to tech. This was my second test of the Q60; I’d had it in November 2016 for a few days but felt I hadn’t had the chance to explore all of its connected services. So I got another full week with it in February 2017.
The Q60 drove great. Read More

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