Instead of focusing on going from here to there, the auto industry in 2020 stopped to focus on the here and now.
As COVID-19 swept across the globe, OEMs and their suppliers found themselves in precarious positions. Demand for their products plummeted with the implementation of stay-at-home orders designed to keep communities safe and prevent stresses on health care systems.
And as the world fought back against the novel coronavirus, cars and carburetors just were not in demand.
But medical supplies were.
So the auto industry did exactly what it had to do, it shifted gears. It took its resources, materials and knowhow and made the medical devices and equipment needed. Within weeks, vehicle makers became ventilator makers and auto parts suppliers turned into personal protective equipment manufacturers. Unlikely alliances were forged and partnerships were solidified, all in an effort to ensure that the lives were saved.
Ford teamed up with 3M Co., combining the auto maker's air conditioning expertise with the medical device manufacturer's insights to produce powered air-purifying respirators at the height of demand.
Within a matter of 40 days, Ford transitioned its aims, realigned its automotive supply chain and began producing PAPRs instead of cars.
"Ford could not stand by while health care workers in this country placed their lives on the line to help others without even having proper protection," Jim Baumbick, vice president of Ford Enterprise Product Line Management, said in May. "That's why we kicked off an all-out sprint to protect those who are so selflessly helping patients afflicted with this terrible virus."
More than 90 paid United Auto Workers union members volunteered to make the PAPRs at Ford's Flat Rock, Mich., facility. By May 6, more than 10,000 respirators had been assembled and a goal of 100,000 units remained in focus.
At the same time Ford revved up production of medical devices, General Motors Co. forged a similar path.