Ford operates two engine factories in Britain, which made just under 1.1 million engines in 2019. Credit: Automotive News.

The world is at war, against a deadly virus … and that calls for wartime measures. Industry must do its part, in this global fight against Covid-19.

Britain has now asked manufacturers including Ford Motor, Jaguar Land Rover and Honda to help make health equipment including ventilators to cope with the coronavirus outbreak, Automotive News Europe reported.

Jaguar Land Rover confirmed it had been approached for help with the production of ventilators as part of ongoing discussions with government, the report said.

“As a British company, naturally, we will do whatever we can to support our communities during these unprecedented times,” a spokesperson said.

Ford said it was assessing the situation. The US 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, the report said.

Honda, which built just under 110,000 cars at its facility in Swindon last year, said it had been asked by the government to explore the feasibility of making ventilators, the report said.

PSA’s Vauxhall unit has also been asked to 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, the report said.

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, the report said.

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, the report said.

“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.

Meanwhile, Ford said it is temporarily suspending vehicle and engine production at its manufacturing sites in continental Europe, effective from Thursday. The company expects the closure will continue for a number of weeks, Automotive News Europe reported.

The automaker’s manufacturing sites in Cologne and Saarlouis in Germany, together with the Craiova facility in Romania, will temporarily halt production from Thursday, March 19, the report said.

Ford’s Valencia assembly and engine facility in Spain already temporarily halted production from Monday, after three workers were confirmed with coronavirus.

“While the impact of coronavirus at our facilities so far has been limited thankfully, its effects on our employees, dealers, suppliers and customers, as well as European society as a whole, is unprecedented,” Stuart Rowley, Ford of Europe’s president, said in the statement.