The global pandemic finally takes out Lamborghini, it looks like it may be about to take at least a chunk out of Fiat Chrysler, and Volkswagen’s got some technology. All that and more in the Morning Shift for March 13, 2020.
Here at Jalopnik, we sort of face this weird dilemma. We write about cars, we love cars, we cover cars and the automotive industry, but sometimes, just sometimes, there are things more important. I know, I know, that’s sacrilege around these parts, but at least for today it’s my blog and I’m going to say it. There’s a global pandemic going on, thousands are dying, and no matter what, the cars will be fine.
But cars can help frame what is going on, in a way.
There are two things Italy truly loves in this world, and that’s art and people. Italian art can take many forms, be it exquisite Roman architecture, fine Renaissance painting, or even a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ.
But the global Coronavirus pandemic is shutting everything down in Italy, and I mean everything. The entire country is under effective quarantine, and while that didn’t include economic mainstays like the art and automobile factory of Lamborghini, it’s now taken Lamborghini, too, Bloomberg reports:
Italian supercar maker Lamborghini is halting production for nearly two weeks as parent Volkswagen AG looks to limit the impact on its operations from the coronavirus crisis that has spread across the globe.
Lamborghini will temporarily close its plant in Italy, which has been hit hard by the viral outbreak, until March 25, the company said Thursday in an emailed statement. All of the brand’s cars are manufactured at its headquarters plant on the outskirts of the northern Italian city of Bologna.
“This measure is an act of social responsibility and high sensibility toward our people, in the extraordinary situation in which we find ourselves right now,” Lamborghini Chief Executive Officer Stefano Domenicali said in the statement. “We continue to monitor the situation in order to react rapidly and with the right flexibility, in collaboration with our people and in order to restart with energy in the right moment.”
And while you might look upon this and think “well Lamborghini cars are delicate things, and maybe the factory workers are, too, it’s just a COLD,” here’s how bad the situation really is.
This is what it takes to shut down the Lamborghini factory. This is what it takes to shut down Italian art production. And we’re not going to talk about cars, we’ll talk about people. The people of Northern Italy, right around where Lamborghini is based.
More than 1,000 people have died there alone, the BBC says, including almost 200 in the past 24 hours. More than 15,000 have been infected. The New York Times describes hospitals as “overloaded,” and doctors are at the point where they are forced to choose who will live and who will die:
With Italy having appeared to pass that threshold, its doctors are finding themselves in an extraordinary position largely unseen by developed European nations with public health care systems since the Second World War.
Regular doctors are suddenly shifting to wartime footing. They face questions of triage as surgeries are canceled, respirators become rare resources, and officials propose converting abandoned exposition spaces into vast intensive care wards.
Hospitals are erecting inflatable, sealed-off infectious disease tents on their grounds. In Brescia, patients are crowded into hallways.
The United States is on track to be hit even harder than Italy. The government of Ohio estimates that 100,000 people have the virus in that state alone, and that number is expected to double every six days.
The federal Centers for Disease Control projects that as many as 1.7 million Americans could die. This is all going to get a hell of a lot worse before it gets any better.
Surely Fiat Chrysler, an Italian company, knows what can happen when Coronavirus runs rampant and unchecked. Or at least, you would think. But the Detroit News says that a worker at one of its factories has tested positive for the virus, yet production continues as normal:
A Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV employee at a transmission plant in Indiana testing positive for the new coronavirus is the next signal for potential disruption in the auto industry from the pandemic.
Although Kokomo Transmission Plant’s production “continues as normal,” spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said Thursday in a statement, auto manufacturing’s assembly line process is an extremely hands-on process with thousands of people in a single facility.
But FCA claims it is taking the epidemic very seriously:
“Consistent with CDC guidelines and the company’s own protocols, the company has placed into home quarantine his immediate co-workers and others in the facility he may have come into direct contact with,” the company said in a statement. “Additionally, the company has deep cleaned and disinfected his working area and is deploying additional sanitization measures across the entire facility, retiming break times to avoid crowding and deploying social spacing.”
It would probably be better for the health and lives of everyone involved to shut the factory down. FCA’s stock price would take a hit, but we’ve seen what can happen when companies, governments, and people just try to pretend nothing is happening and kick the can down the road.
While workers at FCA’s factory where someone has tested positive for Coronavirus must still go to work, FCA’s office workers are being told to work from home, Automotive News reports:
“In our office locations, we are accelerating the deployment of working remotely, or ‘Smart Working,’” [FCA CEO Mike] Manley said in a late Thursday letter to staff that was obtained by Automotive News. “At our offices in China, Korea, Japan and Italy this practice has become the ‘new normal.’ For other locations, Smart Working is now available to all employees and I would ask that you coordinate with your local HR representative on how this is deployed department by department.”
I know, I know, the office workers aren’t “off,” they’re working from home, and there’s no way for factory workers to work from home, but there’s no way this isn’t a Bad Look.
Let’s talk about some non-global pandemic news, shall we? Volkswagen has realized, only a few years after Tesla, that going big into batteries opens up a whole new world of business growth, especially in the world of energy storage. Here’s Reuters with the story:
Volkswagen’s (VOWG_p.DE) expansion in electric cars will open up new business opportunities in storing and managing energy, encroaching on business currently dominated by utilities and energy firms, chief strategist Michael Jost said on Thursday.
Electric car batteries could be used to stabilize the energy grid by charging the battery in times of excess supply and selling electricity back to the grid at times when supplies of electricity from wind and solar power are low, Jost said.
Jost is right! This could be cool and neat and energy efficient and good for the environment!
But it would all be a bit silly to talk about this without mentioning Tesla’s Powerwall, which Tesla has tried to get off the ground for years, but which isn’t really taking off due to the expense.
We’ll get there, everyone.
Volvo has established a goal that says by 2020, no one would be killed or seriously injured a new Volvo. That’s great. I love it. Truly. Don’t want anyone killed. That would be bad.
But while there’s no data yet on whether or not Volvo has met its goal, Volkswagen wants to go a step further, but also, a step later. It wants to make collisions a thing of the past entirely by 2050, Reuters says:
Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) will launch a new software operating system this year that it hopes will make accidents involving its cars a thing of the past by 2050, the company said on Thursday.
Next generation cars will be equipped with software, sensors and processors that enable vehicles to anticipate and avoid accidents, and to keep learning new reflexes, the German car brand’s strategy chief Michael Jost said in Berlin.
“We want to have no more accidents by 2050,” he said.
And while that’s all very ambitious and impressive, I doubt it will ever happen, because of humanity.
People love to crash. Bang into things. Mess stuff up. I’ve even seen people do it on purpose.
Nobody dying in a car? Maybe. Maaaaaaybe.
Nobody crashing at all?
I guess that’s the joy of making predictions about 30 years from now. Either we’ll all be dead, or no one will remember.
Reverse: I Love Herbie
The Love Bug made its official debut on this day in 1969. Starring a pearl white 1963 Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie the movie follows the adventures of Jim Douglas, a racing driver who can’t catch a break.
I’ve got plenty of toilet paper. Just enough that I can eat for the next week or so.