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, particularly if you have business secrets from inside the car industry. There’s some whistleblower stuff going on today.
1st Gear: Bentley’s Now A Football In Brexit Talks
Remember when the German auto industry bought all of the crown jewels of the British car industry back in the late ‘90s? Surely nothing could ever get complicated in these relationships. Oh wait, no, they have gotten complicated. Bentley’s cross-channel ownership has become a critical point in Brexit, as Reuters explains:
Britain has declined to release details of talks held last year with luxury carmaker Bentley Motors about a new investment decision ahead of Brexit, telling Reuters any disclosure could harm its ability to get a good deal with the European Union.
The Volkswagen-owned firm, which built over 11,000 luxury vehicles at its central English plant last year, is due to make a decision connected to the production of future models at the start of 2018.
Britain’s largely foreign-owned car industry is worried Brexit could add tariffs to imports and exports, make it harder to move staff between sites and lead to border checks on the movement of components which would slow down production, risking the viability of their plants.
Basically, there’s a ton of money in the car industry, and how these talks go will have a huge impact on the British and EU economies. At least this is a pretty rational business and no egos will be involved, so everything should go smoothly.
2nd Gear: The NLRB Files Another Labor Complaint Against VW In Tennessee
A theme in this year’s auto coverage is that things aren’t exactly going all-too-well in car manufacturing down South. Rather, there’s a lot of shit going on down there that hasn’t been covered too well. The National Labor Relations Board seems dedicated to changing that, at least, and has filed another unfair labor practices complaint at VW’s Chattanooga plant, as The Detroit News reports:
The National Labor Relations Board has filed another unfair labor practices complaint against Volkswagen for hiking health insurance premiums and changing working hours of employees who voted for union representation at the German automaker’s only U.S. plant.
When Volkswagen’s skilled-trades workers in December 2015 voted 108-44 to be represented by the UAW, it was the union’s first victory at a foreign-owned automaker in the South after decades of frustration.
But Volkswagen has refused to bargain with the unit despite the NLRB’s findings that the maintenance workers “share a community of interest” in terms of qualifications, training, supervision and hours that are distinct from production workers at the facility’s assembly, body weld and paint shops.
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Volkswagen’s already had a contentious union history at the plant, and the future of VW in the U.S. hinges on this plant, as it’s where they are making the seven-seat Atlas SUV. How this all gets handled will be critical for VW.
3rd Gear: Meanwhile, Nearly 300,000 Porsches And Audis Recalled
Remember how I said that SUVs were critical for VW in America? Like, I just said it? VW’s current efforts just got hit with a recall for potentially catching on fire, as Automotive News reports:
Volkswagen AG is adding almost 300,000 Porsche and Audi vehicles to a previous recall for a fuel-pump defect that could result in fire, according to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The fuel-pump flange on certain Porsche Macan models and Audi Q5 and Q7 SUVs may crack, which may lead to a fuel leak and possibly result in a fire, the auto-safety regulator said in recall advisories posted Saturday to its website. The components were manufactured by Continental AG.
The total vehicle count affected is 240,500 Audis and 51,500 Porsches.
4th Gear: Bricklin’s Back And More Wildcat Than Ever
You know Malcom Bricklin, even if you don’t know that you do. He is the man who brought Subaru to America with the 360 in the ‘60s and he’s the man behind the Yugo. It’s easy to think of him as one of the car industry’s most epic failures, but I think we should cut him some slack. Mostly because he made the Canadian SV-1.
In any case, this man with a stellar record is coming back, as AutoNews reports:
The man — who was once described as having a mind that works like a machine gun — is now 78 and relies on a cane to get around. But he is pulling the trigger again with a plan to turn high-end car dealers into high-end art dealers.
Bricklin wants dealers to give him $2 million. For that sum, they’ll get stock in his company and have the rights to sell two things:
1. From their stores, the Bricklin 3EV, a $25,000, three-wheeled, battery-powered two-seater. The vehicle, Bricklin claims, could be ready for sale in two years. Customers, he said, will “test drive” the ritzy-looking vehicle using virtual reality machines installed in a “pod” on dealers’ used-car lots. That pod, by the way, looks a bit like the saucer-shaped ship from the campy 1960s TV show “Lost in Space.”
2. From a separate gallery away from the dealership, high-end artwork by known artists, works that have a guaranteed value. And money is routed to the artists when the works are resold.
Yeah man, EVs and art. This is how you make big bucks in the auto industry for sure.
5th Gear: Read This Story About Whistleblowing In The Korean Auto Industry
It feels more and more like a crunch is coming in the car world, and this period seems to be preceded with an era of gluttonous production and rampant crises and recalls. We’re in the Ignition Switch/Takata/Dieselgate time right now, and I think that means we’re going to be seeing at a lot of whistleblowing. But every culture is different, and in South Korea we’ve seen very little of it. Much of this has to do with family-owned industries and huge societal pressure to stay loyal, as this amazing story in Reuters goes over.
It’s about 55-year-old Kim Gwang-ho, an engineer at Hyundai, who flew to the United States to show documents to our National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration about how his company was dragging its feet about an engine fault that could lead to dangerous stalling.
In a culture which values corporate loyalty, Kim was moving against the tide when he handed the NHTSA 250 pages of internal documents on the alleged defect and nine other faults.
South Korea has been buffeted by corporate scandals, many within its family-run conglomerates or chaebol, but has seen few whistleblowers. A high proportion are sacked or ostracized, despite legislation to protect them, according to advocacy groups.
“I will be the first and last whistleblower in South Korea’s auto industry. There are just too many things to lose,” Kim said in an interview at a bakery cafe run by his eldest daughter.
“I had a normal life and was better off, but now I’m fighting against a big conglomerate.”
Read the whole thing here, it’s fascinating.
Reverse: We Have It Easy
Have you every had any experience with someone being a whistleblower at where you’ve worked? What was it like inside the company for the rest of everybody?