By Katelyn Davis, Director

In a few short weeks, our world has been turned upside down by the novel COVID-19, a form of Coronavirus, which has now affected almost every continent across the globe. It has upended global supply chains, shuttered businesses, and has dramatically changed the way we are living our day-to-day. Most importantly, it has stressed our health care systems causing capacity problems and shortages of life-saving medical supplies—creating unprecedented and dire issues in the United States.

This week, the auto industry answers the call for help—just like they did during the Second World War.

The Arsenal of Democracy

According to the Detroit Historical Society, no American city contributed more to the Allied power during WWII than Detroit, which eventually bore the name “The Arsenal of Democracy” courtesy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Detroit, to the credit of the region’s vast automotive manufacturing capabilities and strength, answered the president’s call for cooperation between the government and corporations to produce weapons to aid Europe and underwent a rapid production of weapons and combat vehicles. The Motor City halted production of consumer automobiles and began rapidly producing military vehicles, tanks, and bombers. As the Arsenal of Democracy, Detroit opened its doors to more than 350,000 new workers including women and created some of the region’s earliest freeways to connect manufacturing efforts. This collaboration and pivot of Detroit’s industry not only created jobs and stabilized an economy during an uncertain time, these efforts also played a vital role in the country’s success. As Walter Reuther of the UAW said, “Like England’s battles were won on the playing fields of Eton, America’s were won on the assembly lines of Detroit.”

This would not be the last time the automotive industry’s expertise in engineering, manufacturing, and logistics would be called to the front lines.

The Arsenal of Health

In a shift that is now being called The Arsenal of Health, the automotive industry is mobilizing once again, stepping up and putting our nation’s needs first. In recent days, announcements were made by automakers to use their facilities and workforce to produce medical equipment needed by our country’s hospitals to care for those infected by COVID-19 and beyond. General Motors will manufacture parts for more than 200,000 ventilators, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has plans to produce 1 million face masks per month, Ford Motor Company is partnering with 3M to build respirators, ventilators, and face shields and Tesla is also working on ventilator production at their facility.

What history shows is that automotive continues to be an industry that shows up when times get tough. Executive Chairman at Ford, Bill Ford said it best: “Whenever we’re called on, we’re there.”

The Arsenal of Ingenuity

The greatest asset of the automotive industry is its diversification and the ability to use the brightest engineering minds and manufacturing expertise to transform industry technology to serve other industries. In an interview with the Today Show, Bill Ford talked about the resourcefulness of the company’s engineers, citing how the fans from the heated / cooled seats in Ford vehicles is being repurposed to power ventilators. As a company, they’re finding ways to take what they have and turn it into what is needed.

It’s this thinking that could once again, win the battle. This is why the automotive industry is actually the Arsenal of Ingenuity.

It’s also this creative thinking and passion that should empower all of us to think outside the box, be resourceful, and find ways to make the best with what is in front of us. What history shows is that automotive continues to be an industry that shows up when times get tough—whether it is in times of war, pandemic, or future unknown circumstances—and it continually diversifies its technologies for applications outside of the industry.

How can we all be creative and inventive, inspired by this industry? What can we do to change the status quo in our organizations, challenge each other to innovate and create new things?

Let’s turn this time of uncertainty into inspiration from automakers and do something great. Together we can keep this a strong, ongoing legacy of the automotive industry.

* Photo Credit Ford Motor Company. Ford COVID-19 Medical Equipment Production – Filtration System Design