Photo: BMW
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A collusion investigation regarding diesels, our robotic future, an American renaissance and more await you in this is The Morning Shift for Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018.

1st Gear: WITCH HUNT!

Turns out, folks in the White House aren’t the only ones being probed for potential collusion. German automakers are also being investigated over diesel technology. European Union regulators are investigating BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen to find out if they colluded to cheat on emissions regulations with their cars, reports ABC News. From the story:

The EU Commission said Tuesday that it had received information that BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, and VW units Audi and Porsche held meetings to discuss clean technologies aimed at limiting car exhaust emissions.

The probe focuses on whether the automakers agreed not to compete against each other in developing and introducing technology to restrict pollution from gasoline and diesel passenger cars.

“If proven, this collusion may have denied consumers the opportunity to buy less polluting cars, despite the technology being available to the manufacturers,” said EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

However, this part’s important:

The Commission said, however, there was no evidence the companies had colluded to develop so-called defeat devices — computer software that illegally turns off emissions controls.

So it was less about cheating and more about meeting to “limit the development and roll-out of car emission control systems.”

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Ever since VW’s Dieselgate scandal was blown wide open in 2015, it’s been a never-ending onslaught of investigations and lawsuits. We’ll be here for it all and so will you.

I’m not saying the EU folks will find anything (they might), but I really do think the inevitable end of diesel is happening soon. Those electric cars and their infrastructure better get in good shape and fast.

2nd Gear: Don’t Worry About the Robots Taking Over—For Now

“Robots are eventually going to take over manufacturing jobs and people will be out of work.” That’s the refrain we keep hearing about the future of factory and production line jobs. But, for now, companies still seem intent on adding human staff.

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In fact, human staff numbers are growing at car factories, according to Bloomberg, which compiled the data. Out of the 13 publicly traded carmakers with over 100,000 employees at the end of “their most recent fiscal year,” 11 saw a staff increase from 2013. Altogether, there was an 11 percent increase from four years ago.

Here are a few reasons for this:

Carmakers in China and other emerging markets, where growth is strongest, favor human labor because it requires less upfront investment, said Steve Man, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in Hong Kong. In developed markets, tasks that can be handled by robots have already been automated years ago and automakers are now boosting hiring in research and development as the industry evolves.

Auto companies are hiring more for software positions than hardware roles to prepare for a future in which more vehicles are communicating with each other and their surroundings, Man said. The rising popularity of electric cars is also set to cause an upheaval at manufacturers that make parts for internal-combustion engines.

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General Motors and Nissan were the only ones with staff numbers that shrank, Bloomberg found. (Keep in mind that GM sold Opel to PSA last year). Bloomberg admits that its data didn’t track wages or location of the employees, however.

So, it looks like automakers are still hiring living, breathing people to work in their factories for now. But just be ready for when robot technology gets cheaper and more mainstream.

3rd Gear: Buy a Car Before 2018 Ends

If you’re in the market for a new car, you might want to hurry over to a dealership soon. Prices will likely soon go up as a result of the trade war we currently find ourselves in.

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The most recent set of tariffs on Chinese imports will raise the cost of over 100 car parts like tires, brake pads, engines and batteries, that cars built and sold here use, according to the Detroit Free Press.

From the story:

He escalated a trade war between the two largest economies on the globe with the announcement on Monday of $200 billion in new tariffs. A 10-percent tax on thousands of imports from China takes effect on Sept. 24, rising to 25 percent on Jan. 1. China hit back on Tuesday, levying tariffs on $60 billion in U.S. products.

Analysts said it is unclear how much car prices will go up in order to absorb the costs of a trade war, but everyone agrees that prices must go up — and that parts from China are crucial to the auto industry.

Car sales will drop as a result, analysts said.

“This is definitely the ‘Mother, make it stop’ point for the auto industry,” said Jon Gabrielsen, a market economist who advises automakers and auto suppliers.

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I hope you weren’t holding out on escaping this trade war unscathed. It’ll only be a matter of time before those costs are passed down to us. Everyone is winning all around!

4th Gear: Cars Are Smartphones Now?

I guess because I am old-fashioned, Not With the Times and persnickety, I think apps in cars is a monumentally dumb idea. People can’t even walk straight while using their phones, why would you now add driving to that equation?

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But it’s the way things are going, apparently, as the Wall Street Journal points out. Automakers like GM, Hyundai and BMW have added or will add app services to their cars. More will undoubtedly come. From the story:

Analysts expect more car companies to link up with retailers, fast-food chains and other merchants to offer car owners the same kinds of e-commerce apps that have long been available on smartphones.

Auto industry executives see the new apps as an added convenience and revenue generator, with merchants paying to have their icons and discount deals displayed on the touch screen.

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HOWEVER!

But safety advocates say such features only further contribute to driver distraction. After years of decline, the number of U.S. road deaths increased in 2015 and 2016, and safety groups say the rise is in part driven by smartphones and infotainment systems giving drivers more reason to take their eyes off the road.

Auto makers “are trying to build cars that are like phones, rather than acknowledging that if you’re driving, you shouldn’t be trying to do these tasks at all,” said National Safety Council President Deborah Hersman.

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These on-screen features help drivers do things they already say they do on their phones while driving anyway, like sending and receiving texts. The features help them keep their hands on the wheel.

Yeah? What about KEEPING THEIR DAMN EYES ON THE ROAD, WHICH IS WHAT MATTERS? Why is anyone using their goddamn phone while they’re driving?

Anyway, it doesn’t seem like adding functions to cars is going to stop. My suggestion would be to drive even more defensively than you already do. Protect yourself from the person who’s trying to order Dunkin’ Donuts with their car.

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5th Gear: I Bring You the Dawn of the Cadillac Renaissance: The XT4

When we tested out the 2019 Cadillac XT4 last week, we found it to be Solidly Fine. Nothing to raise your eyebrows over. But to Cadillac, its significance doesn’t lie in how it drives.

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Rather, you can look to the XT4 for trends that upcoming Cadillacs will follow, according to Automotive News. As a refresher, Cadillac said during the media launch that a new model will be debuted every six months until 2020. From the story:

[There is] a new center stack that includes an electric toggle gear shifter and a rotary dial that replaces a touch pad as a second control for the touch screen.

Robin Krieg, the XT4's lead exterior designer, said the rear was inspired by the former CTS wagon, and he compared the XT4's overall proportions to a “puppy” Escalade.

The XT4 debuts a new “Y” trim strategy for Cadillac, starting with a $35,790 base model and separating to Sport and Premium Luxury models, which start at $40,290. All prices include shipping.

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The Cadillac Renaissance will definitely include more crossovers, which the brand is sorely lacking currently. I just wish this could have happened, like, four years ago. There’s going to be some catching up to do.

We can probably expect that new, 2.0-liter engine in other models, too.

Reverse: Ranier

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Neutral: Do You Think Diesel Will Die?

Do you think diesel-powered passenger cars are soon done for? What about trucks? Both?