GM CEO Mary Barra and President Donald Trump
© Reuters / Rebecca Cook and Yuri Gripas
GM CEO Mary Barra and President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump has lost his patience with automakers who promised to produce ventilators to treat Covid-19 patients, threatening to invoke his emergency powers to force General Motors and Ford to live up to their pledge.

"They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed Ventilators, 'very quickly,'" Trump tweeted on Friday. "Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar."

He added that it's "always a mess" with GM CEO Mary Barra, and that he will invoke the Defense Production Act, a piece of wartime legislation giving the president the power to order manufacturers to produce essential supplies.

"General Motors MUST immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio," the president's rant continued - referring to the plant GM shuttered after promising him to keep jobs in the US - "or some other plant, and START MAKING VENTILATORS, NOW!!!!!!" Ford should do the same, he added, also in capital letters.

GM promised last Friday that it would partner with Ventec Life Systems to "scale up" production of ventilators, vital medical devices used to keep the worst-affected Covid-19 patients alive. Ford also announced that it had entered "preliminary discussions" with the federal government to build the devices. Automakers' apparent foot-dragging seems to have struck a nerve with the president.

Trump's own administration has been reluctant to sign a deal with GM, claiming that the $1 billion price tag requested by GM was too steep. According to a report in the New York Times, Trump backed away so he could talk to other potential suppliers.

The president has until now insisted that America's private sector is willing and able to produce all the supplies that the country needs to stave off the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We are literally being besieged in a beautiful way by companies that want to do the work and help our country," he said at a press conference last week, specifically citing GM as one of these companies.

However, the apparent limits of the free market mean that Trump may soon be forced to invoke the Defense Production Act. Activated by the president last week as a fallback measure, the act would allow the federal government to compel manufacturers to produce vital equipment. As recently as Thursday, however, he insisted that "we don't need it."

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called on Trump to enforce the act. Though he has resisted thus far, circumstances may yet force his hand.

General Motors is still likely to profit from the crisis. While the automaker has suspended production and cut paychecks, it will probably be able to draw from the $500 billion rescue fund allocated by the government's $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill. GM dodged failure before, and along with Ford and Chrysler received an $80 billion bailout in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.