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: Police Raid Toyota In Japan

Last week Julie Hamp, Toyota’s global communications chief and the company’s top-ranking female executive, was arrested in Japan on charges that she mailed herself toy necklaces containing oxycodone painkiller pills in violation of the law.

Toyota officials continue to stand by Hamp, but yesterday police raided the automaker’s Toyota City and Tokyo headquarters, the AFP reports:

A police spokesman told AFP “it’s true that we raided” Toyota’s headquarters in Toyota city in central Japan, its main Tokyo offices and other offices on Tuesday.

[...] Oxycodone, which can be addictive, is designated as a narcotic in Japan but can be prescribed by a doctor to relieve pain. Japanese law allows individuals to bring the drug from abroad if they have a legitimate prescription. However it cannot be sent by mail.

Japanese news sources report Hamp claimed to need the pills for knee pain.

2nd Gear: NHTSA On Blast

If you haven’t by now I highly encourage you to read Mike’s report on the damning audit of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one that reveals a litany of problems at America’s auto safety regulator. It’s pretty mind-blowing.

Naturally, members of Congress didn’t take this lying down. Via Bloomberg:

“This audit report is one of the worst I’ve ever seen for a government agency,” McCaskill said at a Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing. “I was shocked when I read this report.”

Also:

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, the highest-ranking Democrat on the committee, said the agency has only one person to screen 80,000 complaints a year.

“How in the world can you get this done?” Nelson asked Rosekind.

“You can’t,” Rosekind said. “That’s why I agree with the IG’s report. It’s just overwhelming.”

Scovel cautioned the committee that giving the agency more resources before they make broader improvements “does not seem like a good idea.”

I’m inclined to agree.

3rd Gear: I Dream Of Sergio

Today we should meet the Alfa Romeo Giulia, the storied Italian brand’s new rear-wheel drive 3-Series fighting sport sedan. It’s a big deal for Alfa Romeo’s aggressive expansion plans, but according to Reuters, it could be fodder to push the merger CEO Sergio Marchionne (and no one else) wants so badly.

Perhaps reflecting doubts over his ability to fund his 48-billion-euro ($54 billion) turnaround plan for FCA, Marchionne has recently stepped up a campaign to find a merger partner, and targeted General Motors in particular.

GM, which will be talking up a new Chevrolet lineup at a separate event today, has so far spurned FCA’s advances. But a strong Alfa revamp would give FCA more credibility in any future merger talks.

Fiat bought Alfa in 1986. But several attempts at reviving the brand have stalled, leaving just four models. Only around 72,000 Alfas were sold last year. Marchionne is aiming to lift that to 400,000 by 2018, committing 5 billion euros to the brand — much more than previous turnaround efforts.

I’m really excited for Alfa Romeo’s comeback, but as the analyst quoted in that story says, it’s going to take more than just three years.

4th Gear: Someone Finally Tells Takata To Go To Hell

“Why is anyone still using Takata airbags after everything that’s happened?” That’s a question that gets asked a lot around here, and it’s something I wonder about too. The beleaguered Japanese company continues to be a top supplier in spite of their ongoing shitstorm with explosive, potentially lethal shrapnel-filled airbags.

At last, Fiat Chrysler has had enough. One more from Bloomberg:

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is switching suppliers to replace driver-side air bag inflators made by Takata Corp. in more than 4 million recalled vehicles.

As of June 8, the automaker has turned to an “alternate and permanent” inflator design from TRW Automotive Holdings Corp., Scott Kunselman, FCA’s head of vehicle safety for North America, said Tuesday during a Senate hearing in Washington. The decision was related to choosing a safe chemical propellant instead of Takata’s ammonium nitrate, he said.

GOOD.

5th Gear: Maybe People Want Ravioli Instead Of Sauerkraut Sometimes

One more thing on Alfa Romeo: it’s acknowledged that they don’t yet have the dealer network to run with BMW, Audi and Mercedes, and even though they’ve been gone from the U.S. for two decades, they’ve still got a subpar reputation for reliability in this country.

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How do you sell 400,000 cars a year to people who aren’t crazy Alfisti and/or Jalopnik readers? You know, like, normal people?

Speaking to The Detroit News, the company’s North American brand chief says there’s value in being different:

“There’s a desire for an alternative to a German premium sedan in the market, and one of the best things Alfa has going for is it’s not German,” Reid Bigland, head of Alfa Romeo in North America, said during a recent interview at FCA US headquarters in Auburn Hills. “As we benchmark Alfa to the competitive set of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, you’re going to find that Alfa, even with the midsize sedan, is going to be a notch above from a performance standpoint versus those cars.”

They have an uphill battle but I’m excited to see what’s in store.

Reverse: We’ll See Who’s Unsafe At Any Speed Now

On this day in 1966, the United States Senate votes 76-0 for the passage of what will become the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson the following September, the act created the nation’s first mandatory federal safety standards for motor vehicles.

Neutral: How Does Alfa Hit That Growth In The U.S.?

Can they do it and if so, how?


Contact the author at patrick@jalopnik.com.

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