May 5, 2020 / 5:15 PM / 21 days ago

Honda retrofits 10 minivans to transport Detroiters for virus tests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Honda Motor Co said on Tuesday it has delivered 10 modified Odyssey minivans to the city of Detroit to safely transport healthcare workers and people potentially infected with COVID-19 for testing in one of the U.S. cities that has been hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Honda's logo on its Modulo model is pictured at its showroom at its headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon/Files

The minivans have been retrofitted with a plastic barrier behind the front seating area and a modified ventilation system to maintain an air pressure differential between the front and rear seating areas to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Detroit has been especially hard hit by the outbreak, reporting 9,394 cases to date and 1,097 deaths through Monday, or 26% of all COVID-19 fatalities in Michigan.

The Japanese automaker in April said it had remodeled 50 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.

After reading news reports, officials from the state of Michigan and city of Detroit approached Honda about the possibility of acquiring similar vehicles.

A team of volunteers at Honda’s R&D center in Ohio conceived and designed a method to quickly modify the U.S. Odyssey. The minivans have a sealed clear polycarbonate panel between the front seat compartment and rear two-row seating area, while the ventilation system software was rewritten to ensure different pressure levels between the front and rear compartments.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan noted the city has tested over 20,000 residents and employees for COVID-19. Many people in the city lack access to personal transportation.

“Transportation is a critical component of ensuring every Detroiter has access to a test. We are very appreciative of Honda for choosing Detroit to deploy these newly modified vehicles,” Duggan said in a statement.

Honda engineers and other employees in Ohio took the project from initial concept to completion in less than two weeks.

“We’re very proud of the efforts made by Honda engineers in Ohio to quickly devise a plan and modify a small fleet of Honda Odyssey minivans to support the people of Detroit in the face of this unprecedented global pandemic,” said Rick Schostek, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio

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