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: What The Hell’s Going On At Apple?
Man, yesterday was a weird day. First news broke from the Financial Times that Apple was in talks to buy McLaren. Then, very quickly, McLaren denied talks of an investment or purchase were taking place.
We know Apple’s car project—whatever the hell it is now or was supposed to be at the outset—is in trouble. It just got hit with layoffs and a reported complete direction change. The New York Times and other outlets report Apple and McLaren were in “talks” on some level, but hey, companies “talk” all the time. That is entirely possible and it may not lead to anything. But Apple is almost certainly discussing or eyeing vehicle companies on some level.
McLaren’s statement said “We can confirm that McLaren is not in discussion with Apple in respect of any potential investment.”
From the NYT story, emphasis mine:
Apple is also in talks with Lit Motors, a San Francisco start-up that has developed an electric self-balancing motorcycle, about a potential acquisition, according to three people who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Apple has already hired several former Lit Motors engineers.
Even as many Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Tesla and Uber, have embarked on electric and driverless car initiatives, Apple has kept quiet. Yet internally, it has pursued a car project, called Project Titan, which has had ups and downs in leadership and direction. The layoffs at the project this month came after the appointment of an Apple veteran, Bob Mansfield, to take over the effort.
Inside Apple, employees recently described the company’s efforts to build a car as a project lacking vision and in complete disarray. The recent layoffs, followed by Apple’s pursuit of talent and expertise from outside companies, are part of the company’s effort to “reboot” the project, said people with knowledge of the layoffs.
It’s all hard to gauge since we have no clue what Apple wants from a car program, especially now.
2nd Gear: Automakers Balk Even More At Fuel Economy Rules
Nearly on its way out the door, the Obama administration is seeking to establish requirements that would double the average vehicle’s fuel economy by 2025.
Unsurprisingly, automakers aren’t happy about this, since demand for fuel efficient and electric cars is so weak right now, and because as Reuters reports, it could cost the industry as much as $200 billion over 13 years.
The issue is not whether vehicle fuel economy will improve, Mitch Bainwol, head of the industry trade group Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in testimony to be delivered on Thursday to a U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, “but rather how will automakers meet the aggressive standards currently in place, by when and at what cost to consumers, industry and the economy as a whole?”
The trade group represents General Motors, Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and other major automakers.
[...] Automakers have sold 448,837 plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles since 2011, less than half of President Barack Obama’s goal of putting one million such vehicles on the road by 2015, according to the testimony.
Obama administration officials countered in their written testimony that the policy is working. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration general counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh and Environmental Protection Agency official Janet McCabe both said that fuel saving technologies are entering the market faster than expected.
3rd Gear: Give Us Another Year
When will Volkswagen get all its cheating diesel cars fixed? In the U.S. that’s not especially clear, but in Europe the automaker has more of a plan. Via Reuters:
Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) pledged to fix all cars equipped with illicit engine software in Europe by autumn 2017, the European Commission said on Wednesday after talks with the carmaker to ensure it is doing enough for affected clients.
At a meeting with consumer Commissioner Vera Jourova, VW board member Francisco Javier Garcia Sanz committed to a plan to inform customers by year’s end of the need for a technical fix to bring diesel cars into line with EU caps on toxic nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, Jourova’s spokesman said.
The German carmaker also committed “to have all cars repaired by autumn 2017,” spokesman Christian Wigand said, adding the carmarker would offer clients “proof of conformity.”
VW has admitted that it installed improper software that deactivated pollution controls on more than 11 million diesel vehicles sold worldwide.
4th Gear: GM Oshawa Could Make Trucks
General Motors and Canada’s auto union Unifor are working on a deal that could save that country’s troubled car production industry. What are they going to build at the Oshawa plant? More trucks, plus the Malibu and a replacement for the Cadillac XTS. Once more from Reuters:
General Motors will use its Oshawa, Ontario, assembly plant to expand production of pickups for the North American market if a tentative agreement with Canadian auto workers is ratified, sources familiar with Canadian labor negotiations told Reuters.
Oshawa’s manufacturing plant, which employs some 2,500 workers, will install component parts and do final assembly of pickups using bodies shipped from a GM plant in Fort Wayne, Ind., the sources said.
Two sources said that Oshawa will do final assembly on the Silverado, and one source said the work will begin in January 2018.
It was unclear if or when the Oshawa plant will do full production of the pickup, and sources did not know what production volume the assembly represents. GM representatives declined to comment ahead of the union’s ratification vote.
That’s good. People buy pickup trucks. They make money.
5th Gear: Can We Move Fast On Self-Driving Cars?
One big problem with emerging technologies like autonomous cars is that they often move faster than the pace of legislation. (No shocker there.) But the Detroit News reports NHTSA’s new guidelines are a little different this time around:
This time may be different. The NHTSA’s autonomous-vehicle rules appear to recognize the competitive pace, the transformational import of the technology, the pressure to commercialize it, and the need for government regulators to move more quickly. All of which, for now, is considered generally positive.
“It’s a logical, supportive approach — and needed for the industry,” a ranking executive said in an interview Wednesday. “We need the framework that states can move to.”
And they are. A package of bills governing how and where autonomous vehicles could be developed, tested and driven on Michigan roads has cleared the state Senate and a House committee and is expected to be considered by the full House within the next two months.
“I would say about 90 percent of it is complementary and we’re going to be able to work within the federal guidelines,” state Sen. Mike Kowal, R-White Lake, said in an interview. “This is totally new territory. It’s moving at such a rate of speed because the technology keeps moving on us.”
Reverse: The Four-Level
Neutral: What’s Your Take On Apple/McLaren?
It’s definitely an interesting report, but also hard to imagine in reality. Will it never happen or is it possible? And would it be better for one party than the other?