Not for the first time, Mr. Trump was jumping the gun.
Tesla had in fact engaged in a meeting with engineers from Medtronic in a separate negotiation, but no partnership has yet been announced. And while General Motors’ chief executive, Mary T. Barra, was enthused about the ventilator idea, Mr. Trump’s own aides had not embraced the G.M.-Ventec partnership — in part because they had not seen the specifics of their proposal.
Administration officials said Thursday that they were struggling to understand just how many ventilators the new venture could make.
The initial projection, one senior administration official said, was that after three weeks of preparation it could produce an initial run of 20,000 ventilators, or about two-thirds of what Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York recently said his state alone needs to cover the influx of coronavirus patients expected in two weeks, if not sooner.
That number then shrank to 7,500 ventilators in the initial run, or maybe 5,000, a recognition, it seemed, that auto transmissions and ventilators had very little in common. Those numbers are in flux and so are the Trump administration’s because the White House cannot decide how many ventilators it wants.
Targets have changed by the hour, officials said, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration (which approves the use of medical devices) and the White House try to figure out how many ventilators to request and how much they should cost.
Those issues appeared to come to a head on Wednesday afternoon, when FEMA told the White House that it was premature to make a decision.
The $1.5 billion price tag comes to around $18,000 a ventilator. And the overall price, by comparison, is roughly equal to buying 18 F-35s, the Pentagon’s most advanced fighter jet.