Good morning! Welcome to The Morning Shift, your roundup of the auto news you crave, all in one place every weekday morning. Here are some auto stories that are the most important stories you can read, right now, here, with us, in this moment. Together.
1st Gear: The Google Vs. Uber Suit Got More Interesting
The ongoing deathmatch between every automaker and all of Silicon Valley to develop a functional driverless car is moving along at a rapid clip, all the while two of the biggest names involved are duking it out in court.
The reason, if you don’t know, is Google says a former employee stole several thousand autonomous tech files before leaving to work with Uber. All along, Uber has denied the files ever made its way to the company, but an interesting tidbit emerged late last night. Bloomberg explains:
Ousted Uber Technologies Inc. head Travis Kalanick learned early last year that the engineer who until recently oversaw the company’s driverless car project possessed discs of information from Google, according to a court filing.
Kalanick, who resigned under pressure Monday, told Anthony Levandowski around March 2016 that Uber didn’t want the information and that he shouldn’t bring it to the ride-hailing company, and the engineer told management that he destroyed the discs, according to the filing.
Kalanick announced his resignation on Monday, in a surprise move sparked by pressures from Uber’s investors. But this is a rare good look, right? Here he is, telling the supposed Silicon Valley wunderkind, “Hey, don’t bring that stolen shit over here, buddy.” Maybe it was because of ethics, maybe he saw an inherent risk; maybe both. Either way, according to the lawsuit, it still happened.
And Google’s self-driving car project, Waymo, says Kalanick’s apparent resistance is not the point, Bloomberg reports.
Waymo argues in the filing that Uber’s delayed June 5 disclosure of the exchange, and its knowledge of the destruction of the discs, require the company to prove to U.S. District Judge William Alsup that it’s not in contempt of court for repeatedly violating his orders to turn over the information.
This’ll be a fascinating trial to watch, if and when it ever begins.
2nd Gear: Takata Filing For Bankruptcy Monday
We heard earlier in the week that Takata was gearing up to file for bankruptcy. Now, Reuters says, that’s going to happen as early as Monday.
Citing two anonymous sources, Reuters reports that Takata will file for protection in Japan under its version of U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Takata will then seek bridge loans from the core banking unit of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc (8316.T), which will provide tens of billions of yen (hundreds of millions of dollars) in bridge loans, one source said.
Takata spokesman Toyohiro Hishikawa said nothing had been decided regarding any filing or financing.
The plan remains for Takata to stop making air-bag inflators and simultaneously launch bankruptcy proceedings in the U.S.
The real question is how these jokers avoided bankruptcy this long.
3rd Gear: Kia’s Good! Says J.D. Power
If you’ve been on the edge of your seat, champing at the bit for J.D. Power’s initial quality study of new vehicles sold in the U.S., my gosh, the results are here.
Kia Motors (000270.KS) topped an initial quality study of new vehicles sold in the United States based on owner responses for the second consecutive year, business consultancy J.D. Power said on Wednesday.
Fiat, Jaguar Land Rover’s luxury car brand Jaguar and Volvo were at the bottom.
Break out the party balloons, Kia fans. You did it again.
4th Gear: Tesla Doesn’t Want Anything To Do With It, Though
One conspicuously missing automaker from the J.D. Power study is Tesla. Why? Automotive News says it’s because Tesla won’t give the consultant any access to its customer registration data. Hm, I wonder if Tesla has a super-important thing coming up... and the risk of any bad PR could be a huge bummer at this particular moment... hm ...
Anyway, Automotive News has more:
“I don’t know that they’re hiding anything. They just don’t want to participate,” Dave Sargent, vice president, global automotive at J.D. Power, said when releasing the annual survey results here at an Automotive Press Association meeting. “It’s not like their cars are falling apart.”
All automakers aside from Tesla have granted such access, according to Sargent. J.D. Power, he said, receives about 30 percent of Tesla’s customer data. That amount is not enough for the company to place the automaker in its Initial Quality Study, which is viewed as an industry benchmark for quality.
“They don’t want to play this game,” he said. Later adding, “We’re hoping they will come to the party because we’re increasingly getting this question.”
Whatever Tesla’s explanation is, nobody knows. A spokesperson didn’t respond to the News’ request for comment, and Musk didn’t respond to a direct message on Twitter. The News throws a dab of shade on Musk’s no-reply because he’s an “avid tweeter,” the publication says. Ugh.
5th Gear: The Sales Plateau-Downturn-Apocalypse Is Here For Some Workers
Carmakers are expecting a sustained downturn in sales this year, a scenario that’ll have a ricocheting effect across the industry. But if you look below the surface, autoworkers are already feeling the pain, according to Reuters.
In Lordstown, Ohio, for instance, General Motors laid off 1,200 workers by eliminating the third shift at its small-car factory there. It’s one piece that signals the auto boom is over. Here’s a key section from the extensive and wonderfully-reported Reuters story:
The decline in U.S. auto sales is still minor compared to the dramatic collapse during the 2007-2009 financial crisis, when demand for new vehicles plunged to its lowest levels in decades.
However, the days when auto assembly and parts plants throughout the Midwest were running flat-out because of high demand for nearly every type of vehicle are over. Recent sales trends show consumers becoming more selective, shunning older models and especially smaller cars.
For much of the boom that ran from 2010 through to a record year in 2016 of 17.55 million new vehicles sold, the share of cars has declined versus “light trucks” - or pickup trucks, SUVs and crossovers.
After peaking at 51.32 percent of all sales in 2012, passenger cars fell to 40.4 percent of sales in 2016. That decline equates to the output of seven or eight vehicle assembly plants.
It doesn’t look good out there.
Reverse: The Cars, They Go Fast
Neutral: J.D. Power
Do you even care about these rankings? Do most buyers? Does anything matter?