Elon Musk’s Ventilator Program Has Become A ‘Fiasco’

The playbook for helping out in the time of Coronavirus is clear, and yet every day we find new screw ups. All that and more in The Morning Shift for April 15, 2020.


1st Gear: California Governor Praised Musk Giving Hospitals Ventilators But No Hospital Has ‘Em

The auto industry’s shift to making ventilators has been a small but bright light in the pandemic. (GM just started mass production of them, by the by.) And it’s no surprise that Elon Musk has somehow flubbed handling it.

Indeed, it has been dubbed a “fiasco” by the Sacramento Bee in California’s capitol, with people demanding more oversight of how people look for good press in the time of covid. Via the SacBee:

On March 23, Gov. Gavin Newsom made a dramatic announcement: Tesla founder Elon Musk was donating over 1,000 ventilators to California.

It seemed like miraculous news at a moment when the state was desperately searching for ventilators to help save critical coronavirus patients. But was it true?

Newsom’s office now says Musk was supposed to deliver the ventilators directly to hospitals. So far, however, the governor’s office says no California hospital has received them.

The Bee goes on to note that Elon claimed he’d be supplying ventilators but actually was just buying them from China, and the ventilators he was buying and rebranding as Tesla ventilators weren’t even up to spec. A coronavirus-grade ventilator can cost $50,000, as the Bee notes via the Financial Times. Musk’s cost about $800.

Every little bit helps, though, right? Well, the Bee explains misinformation is far from harmless:

So, millions of Californians heard the governor announce Musk’s heroic donation of “ventilators.” Yet not one unit has been delivered – and Musk likely never had the real ventilators our hospitals need.

Tesla did not respond to an interview request.

The Musk debacle shows why the California State Legislature must nail down the details of Newsom’s billion-dollar plan to buy 400 million masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) items needed to slow the coronavirus’ spread.


Meanwhile, Tesla registrations are up 450 percent in China as its Shanghai plant has reopened. Great!

2nd Gear: Amazon Fires Warehouse Workers Who Spoke Out On Unsafe Covid Conditions

Shit is getting weird at Amazon. The company is getting into it with the entire nation of France and threatening total shutdown there at the moment, and The Guardian reports that it just fired two workers who say its warehouses aren’t as safe as Amazon wants you to believe. From The Guardian:

Amazon has fired two employees after they publicly denounced the company’s treatment of warehouse workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The user experience designers Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa said on Tuesday they had been fired after internally circulating a petition about health risks for Amazon warehouse workers during the Covid-19 crisis. Costa had worked at the company for more than 15 years and Cunningham had been an employee for more than five.

“I don’t regret standing up with my co-workers,” Costa said in a statement. “This is about human lives, and the future of humanity. In this crisis, we must stand up for what we believe in, have hope, and demand from our corporations and employers a basic decency that’s been lacking in this crisis.”


We all believe you extra hard now, Amazon.

3rd Gear: Fourth FCA Truck Worker Dies From Coronavirus

Every day we have in lockdown makes us wonder if we didn’t start soon enough. The cases of covid at FCA bring that to mind. Via the Detroit Free Press:

“With deep regret we report the death of a UAW Local 140 member who passed away yesterday. As we all stay safe, our thoughts are with the family and coworkers of our member lost to this national pandemic,” according to a statement Monday provided by UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg.

A message seeking comment was sent to an FCA spokeswoman.

Warren Truck and other FCA manufacturing plants remain shut down in response to COVID-19. Earlier this year, FCA said the plant normally has more than 2,600 employees working on two shifts.


4th Gear: European Auto Industry Is Scheduling Its Return To Work

Automakers once more think they’ll be back up and running over the coming weeks, as The Financial Times reports from Europe:

Toyota, Renault, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Volvo are among those that have opened or are preparing to restart production at sites closed last month, though others including Jaguar Land Rover have pushed back plans to fire up their factories.

Every major European and American site was shut last month to protect workers and because of falling demand and problems in the industry’s supply chains.

Despite a spate of government support schemes paying auto workers during the closures, the virus has led to a dash for cash across the industry, with Ford and General Motors drawing down credit lines, and Daimler opening a €12bn facility to shore up its finances.


The FT has a rundown of the specific dates, but they’re basically cascading from later this month into early May.

5th Gear: Minivans To Fight Coronavirus

Minivans will never stop being the most practical choice on the market, as Reuters firmly reports:

Honda Motor Co. said it has remodeled 50 of its minivans to transport COVID-19 patients to hospitals and quarantine facilities in Japan, sealing off the rear section of the vehicles to keep drivers safe from infection.

The Japanese automaker has placed an airtight divide between the driver and the rear passenger areas of the vans and tweaked their air conditioning systems to enable fresh air to enter through the front near the base of the windshield wipers, pass through to the rear passenger area through vents and exit through the back.

The company said that the one-way ventilation system installed in its Odyssey and Step WGN minivan models ensures that air from the rear section does not enter the driver’s space, reducing the risk of infection.


So far only two have been delivered, but Honda says it’s ready to make more.

Reverse: Hubris Metaphor Still Relevant

At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, the British ocean liner Titanic sinks into the North Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles south of Newfoundland, Canada. The massive ship, which carried 2,200 passengers and crew, had struck an iceberg two and half hours before.


Neutral: Is It Possible For Tesla To Exist Without Musk?

We’ve talked before about how Musk’s whole business plan is to run on hype, differentiating Tesla from other startups by perpetually overpromising. Musk’s Tesla isn’t just a company that makes electric cars, it’s a company that will be sending self-driving prototypes across the country, even if that never happens. The hype fuels the company.


But could Tesla exist without him? At times, it certainly feels like it needs to.



Seems like when Musk steps out of his area of expertise, he suffers from Trumpian delusions. It reminds me of the subway and submarine fiasco. There’s no doubt his heart is in the right place but harsh reality slaps him down.

A real hero would figure out how to 3d print most of a respirator so they can be made locally.