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David W Cerny/Reuters

Italian carmakers Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler are in talks with the nation’s biggest ventilator manufacturer to help it boost production of the life-saving machines which are urgently needed in the coronavirus crisis, company officials said on Thursday.

Italy is at the epicentre of the pandemic and its government has embarked on a big expansion of intensive care beds many of which will require ventilators, machines that keep patients alive by taking over the function of breathing for them.

Siare Engineering, based in the northern Italy, the heart of the crisis where deaths are nearing 3,000 and climbing sharply, is in talks with Fiat Chrysler (FCA) , Ferrari and Italian parts maker Marelli to make some parts, source others and to possibly help in assembly of ventilators.

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Siare Engineering CEO Gianluca Preziosa said the car industry shared some expertise with ventilator manufacturing, with both relying heavily on electronics as well as pneumatics.

“We’re talking to Fiat Chrysler, with Ferrari and Marelli to try to understand if they can lend us a hand in this process for the electronics part,” he told Reuters.

A spokesman for Exor, parent firm of both FCA and Ferrari, said meetings had taken place on Thursday with Siare to study the feasibility of the idea and that a decision was expected in the coming hours.

The spokesman said two main options were being considered: help Siare to engineer a capacity increase at its plant with the support of technicians provided by FCA and Ferrari, or outsource production of ventilator parts to the carmakers’ facilities.

A source familiar with the matter said Ferrari was ready to start manufacturing ventilator parts in its famous Maranello headquarters, which lies close to the Siare factory, but that the luxury carmaker had yet to make a final decision.

Siare CEO Preziosa said another advantage of partnering with car makers was their purchasing power, making them more likely to obtain parts that his small firm was struggling to secure due the pandemic’s disruption of global supply chains.

British automakers join in

Some of Britain’s biggest companies with expertise in aerospace and cars have formed into three teams and are racing to produce basic ventilators to help the National Health Service cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

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Meggitt, which employs 12,000 people and builds components for civil aerospace, military fighter programmes and energy plants, is leading one consortium alongside engineers GKN, Thales and Renishaw.

Meggitt, which produces oxygen systems for aircraft, said in a statement the consortium it is heading would develop and produce a ventilator in large volumes for Britain’s state-run health service.

The other two teams are led by carmakers McLaren and Nissan, a person familiar with the situation said.

“The McLaren Group has offered its design and engineering expertise to government,” the person said.

The car companies are looking at how they could help with production of a simplified design of a ventilator, analysing an existing model and looking at ways to develop a prototype quickly.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday urged manufacturers including Ford, Honda and Rolls Royce to help make health equipment including ventilators.

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A second person familiar with the situation said hundreds of companies had responded to the call for help and were hoping to have a production plan in place soon.

Musk not too far behind

Also on Thursday, hundreds of Twitter users welcomed an offer by Tesla boss Elon Musk to make ventilators for coronavirus sufferers, after the United States appealed for donations of respirator masks to combat a shortage.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization said it was in talks with China and others to help ramp up supplies of health equipment, while General Motors and Ford Motor said they were in talks with White House officials.

“We will make ventilators if there is a shortage,” Musk wrote on Twitter, responding to a fan’s suggestion the billionaire re-purpose a factory for the task.

The Trump administration on Tuesday urged U.S. construction companies to donate respirator masks to hospitals and healthcare providers fighting the virus, amid a nationwide shortage.

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