Coronavirus: Automakers team up with producers to rush out critical medical supplies in India

30, Mar. 2020

By Atul Ranjan

NEW DELHI, NNA- Automakers in India are joining hands with medical device makers to ramp up the production of crucial medical supplies such as life-saving ventilators as the country grapples furiously with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The country’s largest passenger vehicle maker Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. (MSIL), a subsidiary of Suzuki Motor Corp., Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. and Tata Motors Ltd. have either partnered or been in talks with local medical device makers to collaborate on boosting the production of medical supplies including personal protective items for health staff coping with the spike in confirmed cases.

Maruti Suzuki has already entered into an agreement with AgVa Healthcare, an existing approved manufacturer of ventilators, to increase output to 10,000 units monthly, the automaker announced on Saturday.

AgVa Healthcare is currently producing around 4,000 ventilators each month.

“Due to the ongoing pandemic of Covid-19, there has been a surge in ventilator demand all over the world,” it said on its website. The company added that it has been working round-the-clock with an increased production rate of 1,000 units a week.

Echoing the urgency, Dr B.K. Swain, a practicing doctor and former chief medical officer with the government in the western state of Maharashtra, told NNA that critical-care devices such as ventilators used to increase oxygen flow in patients in emergency situations and face shields for hospital staff were already in short supply, especially in government-run hospitals.

Medical workers escort a suspected coronavirus patient into an ambulance which will take him to a hospital for treatment in the northern Indian city of Ajmer on March 24, 2020. (PTI)
Medical workers escort a suspected coronavirus patient into an ambulance which will take him to a hospital for treatment in the northern Indian city of Ajmer on March 24, 2020. (PTI)

Meanwhile. MSIL said AgVa Healthcare would be responsible for the technology, performance and related matters for the ventilators that they produce and sell, while the car maker would rope in its suppliers to produce the components and use its experience and knowledge to upgrade production systems and quality control.

MSIL added that it would render all assistance needed free of charge such as arranging financing and obtaining approvals required to enable higher production.

The automaker has also managed to get its local joint venture firms to produce masks and other protective equipment.

The company said Krishna Maruti Ltd. a joint venture between MSIL and Ashok Kapur-led Krishna Group, would be manufacturing 3-ply masks as soon as approvals are obtained.

Krishna's founder Ashok Kapur will provide two million masks as his own contribution, the company said in a statement.

Another MSIL's joint venture firm, Bharat Seats Ltd., has been tasked to manufacture protective clothing.

Mahindra also announced it is working with a local maker of ventilators to produce ventilators for use in intensive care units in hospitals. The company will also manufacture face shields for medical staff.

Mahindra & Mahindra's managing director Pawan Goenka tweeted last Saturday that it plans to produce 500 face shields on Monday first before increasing production after that. The design was sourced from its partner, Ford Motor Co.

Mahindra is also working with a local partner to produce affordably priced ICU ventilators. Each is likely to cost about $100 (7,500 rupees), a tiny fraction of the costs of such equipment which can fetch up to 1 million rupees, according to a tweet by Mahindra Group chairman Anand Mahindra last week.

Meanwhile, Tata Sons Pvt. Ltd., the principal holding company of the Tata group that owns Tata Motors, announced on Saturday that it would contribute 15 billion rupees to fund key equipment and activities needed to fight the health crisis brought about by the deadly contagion that has forced many places around the world including India to enforce lockdowns and quarantines affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“In addition to the initiatives articulated by Tata Trusts, we are also bringing in the ventilators necessary and are gearing up to also manufacture the same soon in India,” it said in a statement.

Automakers such as Hyundai Motor India Ltd. (HMIL), a subsidiary of the South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co., and MG Motor India Pvt. Ltd., a unit of China's SAIC Motor Corp., are planning to donate critical medical devices to the country, the second most populous in the world.

Hyundai Motor India Foundation (HMIF), the corporate social responsibility arm of HMIL, will contribute advanced diagnostic testing kits imported from South Korea. Designed with high accuracy, the tests will be used on 25,000 patients.

“We will continue to monitor the situation closely and support the Indian government with multi-layered Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives to bring back normalcy at the earliest,” SS Kim, managing director and CEO of HMIL, said in a statement.

Also doing its bit is MG Motor India which will donate gloves, masks, ventilators, medicines and beds to some government hospitals.

According to a March 24 report by Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington D.C., there are no official figures available on the number of ventilators available in the public sector in India. It believes there might be over 17,000 to 25,000 units which would not be sufficient to meet demand as the Covid-19 infections have continued to increase.