London — Britain has asked manufacturers including Ford Motor, Jaguar Land Rover and Honda to help make health equipment including ventilators to cope with the coronavirus outbreak.
Jaguar Land Rover confirmed it had been approached for help with the production of ventilators as part of ongoing discussions with government.
"As a British company, naturally, we will do whatever we can to support our communities during these unprecedented times," a spokesperson told Automotive News Europe.
Ford said it was assessing the situation. The U.S. automaker operates two engine factories in Britain, which made just under 1.1 million engines in 2019. One of the two sites, in Bridgend in Wales, is due to close this year.
Honda, which built just under 110,000 cars at its facility in Swindon in England last year, said it had been asked by the government to explore the feasibility of making ventilators.
PSA's Vauxhall unit and Rolls Royce also were asked for potential help.
It was not immediately clear how a manufacturer of cars could turn to producing specialist medical equipment, which international parts would be needed or what certification would be required.
One option could be to adopt defense industry rules which can be used to order certain factories to follow a design to produce a required product quickly. British industry has the capability to do that but is unlikely to make the electronic components that would also be required.
Robert Harrison, professor of automation systems at the University of Warwick in central England, said it would be a significant task, perhaps taking many months, for engineering companies to manufacture ventilators.
"They would have to tool up production lines and train workers to assemble and test the product," he said.
Sourcing the parts, for example, electronics, valves and air-turbines, quickly could be difficult, Harrison said.
The ventilators are sophisticated devices. "It is crucial that they work correctly in order to keep the patient alive, as these are life-critical pieces of equipment," he said.
Many countries are trying to buy ventilators, used to keep people with coronavirus alive if they struggle to breathe.
Britain, which has reported 35 coronavirus deaths and 1,372 cases, has taken a different approach to some European countries that have imposed stringent lockdowns to try to slow the spread of the disease.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will speak to manufacturers to seek support for the production of "essential medical equipment” for the National Health Service, a spokesman for his Downing Street office said.
"He will stress the vital role of Britain's manufacturers in preparing the country for a significant spread of coronavirus and call on them to step up and support the nationwide effort to fight the virus," the spokesman said.