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: We Knew This Was Coming But Man
Shit is going down today, let me tell you. Trump has been playing up saving or fixing the American auto industry for quite some time, and while he’s talked without any specifics about cutting regulations in general, there hasn’t been a lot new that the President has done. His plan to roll back EPA standards just brings back a normal process of midterm review, for instance.
But today Trump will be giving his proposed budget to Congress and the aims are a bit more direct: cut the EPA’s funding by a third and “eliminate” 19 percent of its workforce, as Reuters reports. That’s 3,200 EPA hardworking Americans who’d be eliminated.
This is bad news for cars and gearheads, as it’s the EPA and its standards that have actually helped make cars better and more powerful over the years.
As we noted yesterday, California and the nine other states that follow California’s distinct auto emissions standards are holding fast and won’t be following any federal rollbacks, as Gothamist reports.
2nd Gear: Meanwhile, Regulators Who Still Have Jobs Are Out Helping Americans
Hyundai now has to recall nearly one million Sonatas across the country for seat belts that can come loose in a crash, as Reuters reports today. I bring this up because it neatly shows American regulators at work, in this case with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
The website for the regulator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), said the recall campaign to begin in early April involves Sonata midsize cars from the 2011 to 2014 model years and Sonata hybrid models from the 2011 to 2015 model years.
Normally I think of NHTSA as a constant disappointment, but today I feel a little bit of appreciation for all of America’s regulators.
3rd Gear: At Least Emissions Testing Is A Job Creator For Sweden
In a little bit of irony, emissions regulation is currently creating jobs, at least in Sweden. The emissions inspector Opus Group AB sees considerable growth in its future and plans to potentially double in size over the next five years, as Bloomberg reports. Basically, business is booming for catching cheating car companies around the world:
Opus ranks as the world’s seventh-largest vehicle inspector and has recently entered countries including Argentina, Chile and Pakistan as well as expanding existing operations in Sweden and the U.S. Geilen may also seek to add European countries and is also considering Asian countries such as India, he said.
“India is a very interesting market because the cabinet has approved a motor-vehicle act that includes the requirement of vehicle inspection for transport vehicles and it’s currently in the parliament for ratification,” Geilen said. “We expect that to go through and the states are already working on procurement preparation in India.”
We’ve written about Opus and how they watch car emissions from the side of the road before, and it’s kind of sad to see them coming off as winners here rather than carmakers getting their shit together.
4th Gear: VW Calls Dieselgate Raid ‘Unacceptable’
Yes, carmakers really are still not getting the message of making cleaner cars, but instead fighting any offense tooth and nail. Volkswagen, for instance, was recently raided by German prosecutors over Dieselgate and the company is not taking it particularly well, as Reuters reports:
German prosecutors have searched the offices of the law firm hired by Volkswagen to investigate its diesel emissions test cheating, as they step up their efforts to identify those involved in the scandal.
Europe’s biggest carmaker condemned the search, carried out on Wednesday but reported on Thursday, as “unacceptable in every way” and said it would use every legal step to defend itself.
“We see the actions of the Munich prosecutor as unacceptable in every way. In our opinion the search of a lawfirm mandated by a company contravenes the principles of the code of criminal procedure,” Volkswagen spokesman Eric Felber said in a statement.
Volkswagen will take every legal step possible to counteract this, Felber said.
It’s funny that VW considers itself a judge of what is or is not acceptable and good behavior.
5th Gear: Time To Buy Some Volvo And Tesla Stock
In other news, both Volvo and Tesla announced that they’re going after a billion dollars each to fund their future product lines. Tesla is after Model 3 money, and Volvo is potentially going after an initial public offering, as the Wall Street Journal reports:
Swedish car company Volvo Car Corp. is seeking to raise an additional $500 million via the sale of preferred shares after raising a similar amount from Swedish investors in December, ahead of a potential initial public offering, according to people familiar with the situation.
What exactly this is for isn’t totally clear, as Volvo’s Chinese owner Geely has already put a solid $11 billion into Volvo and urged the company to cut costs with manufacturing in China.
Tesla, meanwhile, is a bit more direct, as the WSJ also reports:
Tesla Inc. said it is on track to launch a more affordable car this year, but it needs to raise $1 billion to make sure it happens.
The Silicon Valley electric-vehicle maker said Wednesday it is offering $250 million in common stock and $750 in convertible notes to strengthen a fragile balance sheet amid a risky ramp-up of Model 3 production. Billed as a cheaper offering by a company known for pricey super cars, the Model 3 is intended to sell in much higher volumes than the current models and compete with more mainstream brands.
Hopefully this puts some of the calls for slashing regulations in perspective, as making cars is one of the toughest businesses out there. Any chance to cut costs is taken.
Neutral: Has This Ever Gone Well?
The car industry has such a history of fighting against safety and emissions regulations. I’m struggling to think of a time when this didn’t end up garbage, but I’m sure there are fun examples you can recall of fights between carmakers and the EPA in the past.