Good Morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are the important stories you need to know.
1st Gear: Dat Interior Tho
For all the hype around the Tesla Model 3—and there is no shortage of that—there is still quite a bit we don’t know. Tesla gave the world only the most nebulous of specs, and the early prototypes driven at an event earlier this month didn’t even merit hi-res photos of the incredibly spartan interior.
The cars driven there had no gauges and seemingly few buttons, only a landscape-oriented tablet screen in the center of the dash.
Will the final car look that way? Maybe, and Automotive News reports that may be how the car stays so affordable:
The Verge says the screen “looks like it could’ve been pulled off a Lenovo workstation pilfered from an office cubicle.” Wired calls the interior “sleek and minimalist.” Road & Track deems the whole setup “completely bizarre.”
Reacting to the reaction, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the unusual interior will “make sense” later on.
Whatever your take, the setup is crucial because it saves the company significant time and money in both the r&d and production phases of the Model 3.
“That’s a huge part of it,” said Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at AutoPacific. “The Model 3 is a car that even if you weren’t accounting for the EV powertrain, it’s pretty high-tech for $35,000,” so it’s important that Tesla look for every way it can save money and headaches.
The single screen also allows the company to build a single version of the car for right- and left-hand-drive markets, swapping only the steering wheel rather than a complicated instrument panel.
BMW and Audi (see the Virtual Cockpit on the latter) are also starting to consolidate their in-car screen and computer setups to save costs.
2nd Gear: The Model 3's Tax Boggle
Speaking of the Model 3, Automotive News also notes that there’s a limit on the number of customers who can claim the $7,500 tax credit on electric vehicles, so with the massive amount of pre-orders for the car already it’s possible some buyers could come up short. Here’s how Tesla could get around that:
Yet eagle-eyed customers and analysts noticed a loophole in the IRS rules for the credit: The $7,500 credit for electric-drive vehicles isn’t cut until the end of the quarter after the one in which a company hits its limit of 200,000 cars delivered in the United States.
So, the reasoning goes, Tesla could intentionally hit its limit on the first day of a quarter, then deliver a wave of vehicles to American customers over the next six months before the credit begins to disappear.
Asked about this gambit on Twitter, Musk seemed to acknowledge it.
“We always try to maximize customer happiness even if that means a revenue shortfall in a quarter,” Musk replied in an April 3 post on Twitter.
When asked whether owners of Tesla’s Model S sedan and Model X crossover EVs, who go to the front of the reservation queue, would exhaust the remaining credits, Musk added: “Our production ramp plan should enable large numbers of [new customers] to receive the credit.”
3rd Gear: No Bonus For You
Bonuses are for when you have extra money and when good things happen. Or at least, they’re supposed to be. Neither of those things are the case at Volkswagen right now, so CEO Matthias Mueller is pushing for reductions in management board bonuses, reports Reuters:
The proposal being put forward at a supervisory board steering committee meeting follows criticism from one of Volkswagen’s major shareholders, the state of Lower Saxony, about intentions to pay bonuses to top managers while the company grapples with the diesel emissions crisis and prepares to cut costs elsewhere.
Bonuses for senior managers have become a flashpoint in an escalating dispute with powerful labor leaders at Europe’s biggest carmaker as it prepares to finalize a new strategy.
Separately, Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper said in an unsourced report that Mueller would ask board members to accept a voluntary bonus reduction of about 30 percent.
Gotta get through those hard times.
4th Gear: GM Scores Another Victory In Court
The first of six “bellwether” lawsuits over the defective General Motors ignition switch ended under bizarre fraud allegations against one of the plaintiffs. GM won the second and settled the third. And on Friday, the fourth was dismissed by the plaintiff’s lawyers—without settlement. Via Reuters:
The fourth case set for trial was brought by Robert Reid, an Alabama resident suing over injuries he sustained in a 2013 accident. But in a filing in federal court in Manhattan on Friday, GM and his lawyers said the case would be dismissed.
A GM spokesman said there was no settlement as part of the dismissal. The trial in the case had been scheduled to begin on July 18.
“We were prepared to try the case and show that the ignition switch did not cause or contribute to the accident, and we are pleased that the case is being dismissed with prejudice,” GM said.
It would seem so far that the legal cases around the switch are going pretty heavily in GM’s favor.
5th Gear: Feds Say Slow Down On Autonomous Cars
Here’s the problem with federal safety regulations: they tend to move much, much slower than the development of safety technology does. (Just look at America’s headlight regulations compared to the rest of the world.) So once again regulators and safety watchdogs are imploring automakers to slow down on autonomous driving technology.
One reason, they say, is that these cars simply are not ready for primetime yet. Via The Detroit Free Press:
But many of those who addressed the meeting, the first of two the agency has scheduled as it works on the guidelines, described a host of situations that self-driving cars still can’t handle:
—Poorly marked pavement, including parking lots and driveways, could foil the technology, which relies on clear lane markings.
—Bad weather can interfere with vehicle sensors.
—Self-driving cars can’t take directions from a policeman.
—Inconsistent traffic-control devices such as horizontal versus lateral traffic lights.
Until the technology has advanced beyond the point where ordinary conditions are problematic, “it is dangerous, impractical and a major threat to the public health, safety and welfare to deploy them,” said Mark Golden, executive director of the National Society of Professional Engineers.
There have been thousands of “disengagements” reported in road tests of self-driving cars in which the vehicles automatically turned control over to a human being, said John Simpson, privacy project director of Consumer Watchdog.
“Self-driving cars simply aren’t ready to safely manage too many routine traffic situations without human intervention,” he said.
Reverse: Mrs. Ford
Neutral: Is That The Future Of Car Interiors?
On one hand, the Model 3 prototype’s interior is refreshingly simple after a decade and a half of loading down cars with every button and screen imaginable. On the other hand, perhaps it goes too far in the direction of minimalism?