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.
The future of cars as projected by my youth—when carmakers would get serious about hydrogen, when electric cars would be mainstream, when cars would drive themselves—is now more realized than ever. It’s weird how normal the whole thing is.
1st Gear: Daimler Is Giving Up On Fuel Cells
I don’t know how many times I heard that hydrogen was the next big thing in the car world. It’s the most plentiful element in existence! It’s a wonderfuel! This is the future!
And year after year, the message never changed, no matter how much money got thrown at the problems of cost and distribution.
Now it looks like Daimler is giving up, as Fortune reports:
Daimler AG head Dieter Zetsche said at an automotive summit in Germany this week that hydrogen fuel cells are no longer a major part of the automaker’s plans for the future. Engineering news site Smart2Zero reports that Zetsche said declining battery costs have made fuel cell vehicles uncompetitive with electric cars.
Daimler has also declared that it will accelerate its development of battery-electric vehicles by three years.
At least Toyota is still forking cash into this thing:
Daimler’s move (perhaps more than Musk’s less-than-objective rhetoric), undermines Toyota’s emphasis on fuel-cell cars in recent years. Toyota’s initiative is part of a broader Japanese government plan to create a “hydrogen economy,” but as of February Toyota had only sold 2,840 of its Mirai fuel-cell vehicles worldwide.
Hey, maybe I’m wrong here. Maybe this is a bad move by Daimler, prioritizing we-need-them-now-electrics over hydrogen in the future. Maybe.
2nd Gear: Tesla Hits New Quarterly Sales Record Up 69 Percent (Nice.)
Somehow Tesla’s—ahem—troubled Fremont factory cranked out enough Model S and Xs to hit a new production record for the company (13,450 sedans and 11,550 minivans, respectively) along with a new quarterly sales record as well. Tesla shipped 25,000 cars in the first quarter of 2017.
I never totally trust Tesla’s narrative, because it does things weird, as Bloombergnotes:
The delivery figure is a preliminary number that may change slightly in May when the company reports earnings for the period. Tesla releases global sales figures quarterly, instead of the monthly country-by-country results typically announced by other automakers. The delivery count only includes a car if it’s transferred to the customer and all paperwork is correct.
Still, it’s easy to see why Daimler is ditching fuel cells to speed up EV development, no?
3rd Gear: LiDAR Production Can’t Meet Demand
Your next self-driving car might be a little bit later in coming than the auto industry has previously expected, as its critical tech is sort of bottlenecking before it goes on sale. LiDAR, if you haven’t been keeping up, is the electric all-seeing eye that makes self-driving cars able to detect everything around them. Everybody wants it, and that’s a problem, as Automotive News reports:
The demand for lidar has some customers waiting more than six months to get their orders filled, compared with a few weeks for delivery just a year ago. The Silicon Valley publication The Information reported in March that researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario had to put their self-driving car program on hold after its 5-year-old lidar broke, and the team was told by lidar manufacturer Velodyne that it would take six months to get a new one.
Velodyne’s LiDAR shipments have tripled year over year, and it looks like new companies are going to have to pop up to meet our crushing desire for cars that let you safely text while you’re on the road.
4th Gear: Munich Is Still Steamrolling VW
Recently German prosecutors in Bavaria (Would you ever see this in Volkswagen’s home state of Nidersachsen?) raided VW’s offices looking for Dieselgate docs. Volkswagen protested with an official complaint though, oddly, VW did not say what the complaint was exactly.
That’s not important now, as a German court has already thrown it out, as Reuters reports:
[A] Munich local court has now decided that the raids by prosecutors on Jones Day as well as on VW and Audi, both of which were also searched separately on March 15, were legitimate, a court spokeswoman said on Monday.
Munich prosecutors said the decision by the local court to reject VW’s complaint would also be checked by a Munich district court.
“There is no change in our position,” a spokesman at Wolfsburg-based VW said on Monday. “We adhere to our legal opinion.”
Again, the future of clean cars is here, and it’s one that carmakers are fighting tooth and nail, cheating wherever they can get away with it. Who thought it would be squeaky clean and positive?
5th Gear: Ford Recalls The F-250 For Rolling Back While Parked
Again, if you ever thought the future of cars would be led by the auto industry itself, bright and supportive, think again. Ford just announced its third recall this week, as Reuters reports:
Ford Motor Co is recalling about 52,600 F-250 pickup trucks sold in the United States and Canada because the vehicles could roll after the driver moves the automatic transmission lever into park position, the company said on Saturday.
The recall, the third announced by Ford this week, affects 2017 model year F-250 vehicles powered by 6.2-liter gasoline engines and built in its Louisville, Kentucky, truck plant, it said in a statement.
Ford, the second-largest U.S. automaker, also said it was unaware of any injuries or accidents associated with the latest issue.
The day I trust carmakers to look into their hearts and, in a moment of piety and clarity, build cars that are clean and safe and well-built, is the day I die. This is why we have regulations.
Reverse: The Fast and the Furious Goes From Car Movie To Blockbuster
Neutral: The Car Of The Future Is Here. Is It How You Imagined?
I can’t say I’m disappointed in how the future of cars has turned out. It’s just kind of funny to contrast it to how happily carmakers said they were getting into the business of a revolutionarily clean and advanced tomorrow. How did you envision the future of cars when you were growing up, and how has it turned out?