America's Auto Industry Is At The Heart Of The Opioid Crisis

Illustration for article titled Americas Auto Industry Is At The Heart Of The Opioid Crisis
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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: Opioids And Autos

Now that you’re all rested up and cheerful after Thanksgiving, here is a depressing trend piece: as you might expect given the location of the crisis, America’s auto industry finds itself increasingly dealing with the opioid epidemic—addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin that now kills more people each year than guns or car crashes.


The report comes from Automotive News, and it is worth a read in full as policymakers come to grips with how to address the crisis. While there aren’t hard numbers on addiction deaths for specific automakers, here are some notable tidbits:

Plants responsible for more than 70 percent of the Detroit automakers’ U.S. production are in states identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as having statistically significant increases in drug overdose deaths in 2015, the last year for which data are available.

All six of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ U.S. assembly plants, seven of Ford Motor Co.’s eight plants and eight of GM’s 12 plants are in those states. So are three of the four largest auto plants in the country: Nissan’s factory in Smyrna, Tenn.; Toyota’s in Georgetown, Ky.; and Honda’s in Marysville, Ohio.

Why is this happening at auto plants? A lot of it has to do with the nature of the work, which is repetitive and often dangerous. Plus, drugs and alcohol at auto plants is nothing new; it’s just that the drugs are probably more devastating than they’ve been in decades. In addition, policies at the plants basically state relapses will cost workers their jobs, so they often don’t seek treatment or tell people.

Automakers have programs to help workers with addictions and mental-health disorders, but the programs aren’t necessarily equipped to handle the long recovery times that opioids require. And workers who fear for their job security are often reluctant to seek help, especially if they’ve lapsed more than once. [...]

Auto assembly jobs — physically demanding, with workers repeating motions and staying on their feet for long periods — create an environment in which opioid use can easily get out of hand.

“They’re doing eight, 11 hours a day,” says Kevin Bush, an employee support representative at Ford’s Louisville Assembly Plant in Kentucky. “Assembly work is very boring, very tedious. That kind of work causes many aches and pains in their body. Maybe they have a pain and the doctor prescribes opioids. And over a period of time the use of that creates a high tolerance and an addiction. And one thing leads to another and it gets worse.”


The story also details how UAW members and automaker employees are trained to keep an eye out for signs of addiction, then provide services that can help, like treatment programs and counseling. But this is a problem that can’t be fixed until it’s addressed at the health care provider level.

Again, worth a read in full.

2nd Gear: GM’s Autonomous Plan Coming This Week

The robot cars are coming, and General Motors will show off its autonomous plan to Wall Street investors on Thursday. Being “prepared for the future,” whatever that means and will ultimately look like, is crucial to investors and analysts who have until fairly recently been down on the Big Three’s ability to survive another recession or cataclysmic change to the auto industry.


We’ll see Thursday if GM gets specific, or if it’s just embarrassing PowerPoint presentation like Ford did recently. Via Automotive News:

Self-driving and all-electric vehicles are the cornerstones of GM’s goal of “zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion,” which Barra announced this year as the automaker’s guiding principles.

The event Thursday, Nov. 30, with Wall Street investors is expected to focus on GM’s mobility and self-driving vehicle business, which some analysts have valued as high as $30 billion. It comes two weeks after Barra disclosed GM’s plans for a new fleet of all-electric vehicles that executives expect will increase sales of the alternative powertrains to 1 million annually by 2026 and turn a profit.

“We recognize that our industry is changing very quickly, and we plan to participate in the biggest business opportunity since the creation of the Internet,” she said of self-driving cars Nov. 15 at the Barclays Global Automotive Conference.

Since purchasing Cruise Automation as its self-driving unit in 2016, GM has been one of the most aggressive automakers in developing and testing autonomous vehicles.


3rd Gear: Hyundai’s Dealers Are Pissed Over Genesis

Hyundai dealerships, many of them probably willing to jump at the chance to have a more profitable luxury store in the form of Genesis, are apparently pissed at the mothership as some of them get left in the dust. Here’s the drama from Automotive News:

The incident — recounted to Automotive News by numerous people familiar with the proceedings — reflects rising frustration among Hyundai dealers who carry Genesis products and conflicting views of what role they will play in the Genesis retail network.

The walkout came after dealers were told of a potential decision by Hyundai to open points of sale for Genesis stores in select locations to non-Hyundai retailers, according to the sources. Dealers also were frustrated by how much Hyundai plans to compensate dealers who no longer will be permitted to sell Genesis vehicles, the sources said.

[...] Many Hyundai dealers had hoped to add a Genesis franchise, something that is increasingly unlikely given Hyundai’s goals for the Genesis dealer count. They already are permitted to carry the Genesis G80 sedan and more than a third of them had invested in facility improvements and training to qualify to sell the top-of-the-line Genesis G90. The new luxury marque also would give them a chance to earn higher profits.


At the same time... have you ever been to a Hyundai dealership? I’d say most of them aren’t yet equipped to have a store that’s aimed at competing with Lexus or BMW or Mercedes.

4th Gear: Ford Has A Proving Ground In China Now

Which shows how serious these automakers are about Chinese production, including for eventual export to the U.S. From The Detroit News:

The new test center in Nanjing, China, where Ford already runs a research and engineering center, is the automaker’s first in the world’s largest auto market. The Nanjing Test Center and accompanying MakeSpace creative hub represent $100 million of the company’s roughly $200 million investment in Nanjing.

The opening of the test center comes as Ford and other automakers scramble to expand in the rapidly growing Chinese auto market. The Dearborn-based automaker is also partnering with Chinese electric-vehicle giant Anhui Zotye Automobile Co. in a $756 million joint venture to sell all-electric vehicles there.

The roughly 160-acre proving ground in Nanjing will allow Ford to more quickly develop cars for the Chinese market. It features 80 different types of road surfaces conditions, a nearly two-mile-long test track and an emissions testing facility.


5th Gear: The LA Auto Show Is This Week 

Hey! The Los Angeles Auto Show happens this week, so expect the reveals and news to start trickling out today. Big debuts include a three-row Lexus RX crossover (because money), a new Jeep Wrangler (because fun isn’t dead yet), the new Corvette ZR1 (because brutal speed) and the BMW X7 concept (because money, again.)


Team Jalopnik will be there to bring you all the news, videos and hot takes. I’m not gonna lie to you, we’re mostly really in town for Radwood 2, but the LA Auto Show will be a good way to pass the time until that happens.


Reverse: A Champion Of Speed And A Champion Of The Dance


Neutral: What Should GM’s Autonomous Car Plan Look Like?

How does one of the world’s largest automakers prep for the supposed robot car revolution?

Editor-in-Chief at Jalopnik. 2002 Toyota 4Runner.

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Joe Patroni

I wonder if our Governments will ever outlaw or severely restrict human drivers. It’s an irrational fear perhaps.