This is the Morning Shift, our one-stop daily roundup of all the auto news that's actually important — all in one place at 9:00 AM. Or, you could spend all day waiting for other sites to parse it out to you one story at a time. Isn't your time more important?
1st Gear: Dangerous levels of radiation leaking from a crippled nuclear plant forced Japan to order 140,000 people to seal themselves indoors Tuesday after an explosion and a fire dramatically escalated the deadly quake and tsunami crisis. The international nuclear agency said a fire in a storage pond for spent nuclear fuel at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex had released radioactivity "directly into the atmosphere." How bad is it? At the front gates to the facility, radiation levels jumped to ten times normal radiation exposure levels for one year. Yes, I'm now officially scared. I've been pretty much watching NHK World and this Tokyo geiger counter web cam non-stop.
2nd Gear: Toyota's northern Japanese factories in the region hammered by Friday's massive earthquake will need repairs but they sustained no major structural damage, the company said. Toyota, however, will not resume production until Thursday at the earliest amid parts shortages and power shutdowns. Virtually every Toyota model exported to the United States from Japan, from the Prius, Corolla and Yaris (above) to models in the Lexus and Scion lineups, is affected by the shutdowns. We're told by Bloomberg that total output loss may top 40,000.
3rd Gear: The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan will temporarily take pressure off of tightening global oil supplies as the world's third-largest oil consumer works to rebuild its shaken economy, energy analysts said Monday. But analysts say that's just in the short term. Long term, Japan will likely boost imports of coal, natural gas, diesel and other refined fuels in coming weeks — especially given their now decreased refinement capacity. So what does this mean for us here in the U.S.? It means that gas prices will go up. We're already seeing it as gasoline pump prices in the U.S. rose Monday for the 27th straight day, to a national average of $3.56 per gallon, according to AAA
4th Gear: Following yesterday afternoon's board meeting, Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn announced he declined the resignation offered by COO Patrick Pelata. Ghosn then announced he'd given up his 2010 bonuses and stock options, and will be reinstating the three dismissed executives fired over a belief they'd been involved with industrial espionage at the automaker. They weren't.
5th Gear: Would you like to buy your own automaker? The business and assets of Bristol Cars Limited, the British bespoke brand, are currently up for bid. That means you'll get the brand name, a showroom in Kensington, trademarks, logo, the plant and machinery. And hey, they'll throw in some second hand car stock too. You know, for kids. Buy it now for the low price of... well, yeah, there's no "Buy it Now" price, but you can find out more here.
6th Gear: McLaren chairman and former Formula One boss Ron Dennis has been banned from driving for six months for running a red light in the U.K. Well, actually, it was for four minor traffic infringements that resulted in 12 penalty points. But, you know, straw that broke the camel's back and all.
⏎ 18 Ford execs to share $34 million under retention plans. [Detroit News]
⏎ Given the current situation in Japan, maybe this Michigan-based cupcake company should come up with a better icing design unless maybe it's an active ingredient. In which case, don't buy them. [Click On Detroit]
⏎ College teams seek 200 mpg [Detroit News]
⏎ Ssangyong to invest $211 million as India's Mahindra completes acquisition. [HKAIP]
⏎ NHTSA's going to watch your ass and make sure it doesn't get burned. [USA Today]
⏎ GM execs met with Washington lawmakers yesterday ahead of its regular monthly shareholder...err...stakeholder meeting. [Detroit News]
⏎ The driver in this weekend's Bronx bus crash that left 15 dead was driving on a suspended license and had a criminal record. [MSNBC]
⏎ And speaking of Chinatown buses — another one had a fatal accident last night. [New York Times]
Today in Automotive History:
On this day in 1968, construction starts on the north tunnel of the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnel on Interstate 70 in Colorado, some 60 miles west of Denver. Located at an altitude of more than 11,000 feet, the project was an engineering marvel and became the world's highest vehicular tunnel when it was completed in 1979. Four months after opening, one million vehicles had passed through the tunnel; today, some 10 million vehicles drive through it each year. [History]