By Elvira Pollina and Giulio Piovaccari

MILAN (Reuters) – Italian carmakers Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler are in talks with the nation’s biggest ventilator manufacturer to help to boost production of the life-saving machines that are urgently needed in the coronavirus crisis, company officials said on Thursday.

Italy is at the epicenter of the pandemic and its government has embarked on a big expansion of the number of intensive care beds, many of which will require ventilators to keep patients alive by taking over breathing functions.

Siare Engineering in northern Italy, where deaths are nearing 3,000 and climbing sharply, is in talks with Fiat Chrysler (FCA), Ferrari and Italian parts maker Marelli to make some parts, source others and to possibly help with the assembly of ventilators.

Gianluca Preziosa, Siare’s chief executive, said the two industries share some expertise, with both the ventilator business and automakers relying heavily on electronics as well as pneumatics.

“We’re talking to Fiat Chrysler, Ferrari and Marelli to try to understand if they can lend us a hand in this process for the electronics part,” he told Reuters.

Rome has asked Siare to ramp up its monthly production of ventilators from 160 to 500 after the virus crisis has left the country’s healthcare system in acute distress, Preziosa said.

A spokesman for Exor, parent of both FCA and Ferrari, said that meetings with Siare had taken place on Thursday to study the feasibility of the idea and that a decision was expected in the coming hours.

He said that two main options were being considered: either to help Siare engineer a capacity increase at its plant, with the support of technicians provided by FCA and Ferrari, or outsource production of ventilator parts to the carmakers’ facilities.

A source familiar with the matter said that Ferrari would be ready to start manufacturing ventilator parts in its famous Maranello headquarters, which lies close to the Siare factory, but that the luxury carmaker had yet to make a final decision.

Siare’s Preziosa said that another advantage of partnering with carmakers was their purchasing power, making them more likely to obtain parts that his small firm was struggling to secure amid coronavirus-related disruption to global supply chains.

(Editing by Mark Bendeich and David Goodman)