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Europe Is Not Messing Around With Cheating Cars

VW’s Autostadt in 2015
VW’s Autostadt in 2015
Photo: Getty (Getty Images)
The Morning ShiftAll your daily car news in one convenient place. Isn't your time more important?

The EU has been able to fine car companies not meeting their ever-tighter emissions standards, but now Europe is getting a tougher rule: It can recall cheating and non-compliant cars. That and more in The Morning Shift for September 1, 2020.

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1st Gear: Solving An Enforcement Problem

I have a feeling that EU regulators are still embarrassed about a bunch of West Virginians exposing Dieselgate when everyone in Europe already knew all about “cycle beating” cars that complied with the letter of the law, but polluted in the real world. In any case, the EU’s emissions regs just got some new enforcement measures, as Reuters reports:

The European Commission will be able to recall vehicles and potentially revoke their certification for roadworthiness if they breach EU emissions limits, under new rules that aim to avoid a repeat of Volkswagen Group’s diesel scandal.

The rules give the European Union’s executive power to check cars for compliance, order recalls across the 27-country bloc and issue fines of up to 30,000 euros per car for automakers whose vehicles breach EU laws on emissions or safety.

Previously, recalls and fines could only be issued by the national authority which approved the vehicle. The Commission said this system has not allowed cars to be fixed quickly on a wide enough scale.

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How much of this is genuinely fighting climate change in a global context I can’t say, but every bit helps and stricter enforcement does represent a bit of an attitude change.

2nd Gear: France Ends Its Cash For Clunkers Program And Sales Drop 20%

This one isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, but it is always worthwhile to consider how much of the auto industry is subsidized in all kinds of ways. Automotive News Europe explains:

French new-car registrations fell by 20 percent in August after an enhanced coronavirus scrapping incentive expired at the end of July, with only Hyundai, Kia, Volvo and Toyota showing growth.

There were 103,631 registrations in August on 21 selling days, the same number of days as in August 2019, according to industry group CCFA.

A French government scrapping program to provide up to 5,000 euros ($5,990) for buyers trading in older, higher-emissions vehicles for new or used ones with the latest certifications expired at the end of July after 200,000 transactions were financed.

[...]

Even though August sales were down significantly, totals were close to typical for the month, traditionally the slowest in France.

Our gas is cheap, our roads are almost free. Well, they’re not really. We subsidize them, a conscious choice that we could reverse.

3rd Gear: GM And Ford Done With Ventilator Contract

Around 50,000 ventilators later and Ford is done making ventilators. GM also fulfilled its contract at 30,000 machines, as the Freep reports:

General Motors and Ford Motor Co. are exiting the ventilator business, turning their focus back to the car business.

Both automakers have fulfilled the terms of the contracts they had with the federal government to make the life-saving machines.

[...] As of two weeks ago, the Department of Health and Human Services told the Free Press there is no longer a shortage of ventilators in the national stockpile.

“While there is not currently a shortfall of ventilators in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), the new ventilators procured during the COVID-19 response will ensure the United States is prepared to respond to any hot spots in the coming months as well as any future public health emergency response that might require these devices for lifesaving care,” said Amber Dukes, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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I’m just amazed that GM and Ford are “done” with their share of the work fighting Covid and Covid seems very much not done kicking the living shit out of America. It all highlights the limitations of America’s inconsistent effort to fight Covid. Time and time again, we do half of the right thing and undo its value by not doing the other half. If we had some universal healthcare in the mix, whoooo, we’d be in a different ballgame.

4th Gear: Ford To Cut Another 1,000 Jobs

Bloomberg is claiming that this isn’t related to Covid, I guess in the same way that not everything is related to Covid. Normally I’d say that sounds like bullshit to me, but Ford has been making unforced errors all over the place for the past few years, so it’s maybe fair. Via B’berg:

Ford Motor Co. is preparing to trim about 1,000 salaried jobs in North America, looking to its home market for savings as part of an $11 billion global restructuring begun two years ago as it projects an operating loss this year.

The job cuts are aimed at improving the automaker’s efficiency and are not related to rising costs from the coronavirus pandemic, said people familiar with the action on Monday who asked not to be identified revealing internal plans. An announcement could come as early as this week, the people said.

[...]

Last year, Ford closed plants and eliminated thousands of jobs in Europe, where it has been losing money. In North America — the automaker’s most profitable region thanks to F-Series pickups — the cutbacks are smaller and are expected to come in the form of voluntary buyouts. They are in addition to 2,300 previously announced salaried job reductions in the U.S. during Hackett’s tenure.

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5th Gear: Mining Nickel For EV Batteries looks Real Bad For The Environment

This is maybe a slightly skewed vision of the world, as we kind of take for granted the entire oil industry’s pollution, as if it was some sort of given, or a kind of neutral baseline. Still, it’s worth reading this Financial Times report to remember that tailpipe emissions are only a part of the picture. Via the FT:

Elon Musk’s call for miners to dig more nickel for Tesla’s batteries faces its biggest test in Indonesia, where companies in the world’s top producing nation are planning to dump millions of tonnes of waste into the sea.

Mr Musk said on an earnings call last month that Tesla would give a “giant contract” to companies that could mine nickel “efficiently and in an environmentally sensitive way,” in response to a question about the biggest constraint on the electric car maker he runs.

[…]

Analysts predict that Indonesia will account for almost all of the growth in nickel supplies over the next decade, overwhelming output from new mines in Canada and Australia. But a number of Chinese-backed projects in the country plan to dump mine waste containing metals such as iron into the sea, in an area renowned for its unique coral reefs and turtles.

“It could undermine the entire proposition of trying to sell a consumer a product that is environmentally friendly, if you have this back story,” said Steven Brown, a Jakarta-based consultant and former employee at nickel miner Vale. 

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Read the full FT report here for a bit more context.

Reverse: Do You Remember?

It is unreal that this date is... 1998! Via History:

On September 1, 1998, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 finally goes into effect. The law required that all cars and light trucks sold in the United States have air bags on both sides of the front seat.

Inspired by the inflatable protective covers on Navy torpedoes, an industrial engineering technician from Pennsylvania named John Hetrick patented a design for a “safety cushion assembly for automotive vehicles” in 1953. The next year, Hetrick sent sketches of his device to Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, but the automakers never responded. Inflatable-safety-cushion technology languished until 1965, when Ralph Nader’s book “Unsafe at Any Speed” speculated that seat belts and air bags together could prevent thousands of deaths in car accidents.

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Neutral: What Does Your Dream Automotive Landscape Look Like?

Do you think the current spectrum of automotive regulations are taking us down the right path? What would you like to see?

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

Neutral:

Scrapping all CAFE and CARB regulations and replacing them with a flat fuel tax.

Let people drive what they want to, and pay the cost of the externalities. The current status has too many loopholes, complications, and unintended consequences. If the goal is to reduce fuel consumption and emissions, then simply make the fuel more expensive. Don’t play technical games with vehicle footprints and GVWRs.