LONDON -- McLaren Automotive is among companies looking into rapid production of basic ventilators that could help patients with breathing problems suffered as a result of the coronavirus.
The UK supercar-maker is forming a team "with a view to see if these ventilators can be produced rapidly and relatively simply," a spokesman told Automotive News Europe.
At present the plan would not be for McLaren to manufacture the ventilators, but rather the company would offer its design expertise, the spokesman said.
McLaren’s team is one of three consortiums being assembled by engineering specialists to tackle a potential shortage of the ventilators in the UK.
Nissan will lead another while aerospace component specialist Meggitt will lead a third, Reuters reported.
McLaren is looking at how to design a simple version of a ventilator and Nissan is working with others to support existing ventilator producers.
Meggitt, which builds components including oxygen systems for civil aerospace and military fighter programs, is leading a consortium with engineers GKN, Thales and Renishaw.
European aerospace group Airbus is working across the process to see if its 3D printing or production facilities can be of use.
"The aim is for there to be a prototype in two weeks and for manufacturing to start in four weeks," one person familiar with the situation told Reuters.
Two groups are acting to coordinate the program -- PA Consulting and High Value Manufacturing Catapult, which was set up by the government to bridge the gap between British business and its powerful academic sector to turn ideas into income.
Airbus said these were unprecedented times and it would help where it could. "Our engineers and technology teams are investigating the practicalities of how we might best support the design, manufacturing and assembly of critical medical equipment," a spokesman said.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday urged manufacturers to help make health equipment including ventilators. The government has approached carmakers including Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, Honda, PSA-owned Vauxhall, Bentley, Aston Martin and Nissan in the last few days.
In the U.S., General Motors and Ford said they are exploring ways to support production of medical equipment including ventilators.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also said his company is also prepared to help. "We will make ventilators if there is a shortage," Musk wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
"Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly,” Musk said in another Tweet.
Experts are skeptical about whether automotive companies can help.
It would be a significant task to tool up production lines and train workers to assemble and test the products, according to Robert Harrison, professor of automation systems at the University of Warwick in central England.
Many countries are trying to buy ventilators, which are used to keep people with coronavirus alive if they struggle to breathe.
Reuters contributed to this report