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: Uber’s Getting Isolated
Corporate partners, suppliers and other organizations that had a connection with Uber before its fatal self-driving crash are having a reaction similar to what would happen if someone in the high-school clique did something very bad and threatening to everyone else’s reputation—taking some big steps back.
The crash happened midway through March, when one of Uber’s autonomous Volvos fatally hit a woman in Arizona while video showed the person in the driver’s seat looking down.
Bloomberg reports that suppliers, competing companies and formerly supportive government officials are either criticizing or distancing themselves from Uber now.
While it seemed inevitable that a fatal wreck would happen, it looks bad on the entire industry and those sanctioning the tests. It’s also bad for the already weak faith in self-driving cars, since only one in four Americans trust them, according to studies. Now that Uber’s the first to have this happen—among many other problems there—everyone else is like “I don’t know her.”
Here are some of the public comments people and entities are making about Uber after the crash, many talking about how they would have avoided it:
The chief executive of self-driving rival Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo said his company’s vehicles would have avoided the March 18 accident. Executives of companies that supply autonomous vehicle technologies pointedly said their their systems were capable of detecting the pedestrian.
And Arizona Governor Doug Ducey — who turned the state into a virtual test track for the industry by strictly limiting regulations — wrote to Uber’s CEO, saying saying he expected companies developing self-driving technology to make safety their top priority. Uber’s accident, he said, “is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation.”
The comments stand in contrast to high-profile accidents in industries such as aviation, where competitors almost never comment publicly about each other during investigations. ...
“More incidents like the one last week could do further harm to already fragile consumer trust and spur reactive regulation that could stifle this important work,” Intel Corp.’s Mobileye Chief Executive Officer Amnon Shashua wrote in a company blog post.
Bloomberg makes a good point in that it’s surprising to see these companies speak out so forcefully and often during the investigation, considering that investigation is still ongoing. But that isn’t stopping anyone, and Bloomberg has tons of other examples of people and companies speaking out about the Uber incident here.
2nd Gear: Uber Settles California Discrimination Lawsuit For $10 Million
Along with everything else going on at Uber, Reuters reports the company just settled a gender and racial discrimination lawsuit from two female engineers in California for $10 million. Uber’s had a history of discriminatory problems in both areas, including with customers. That’s just the start of it.
The settlement came in a California U.S. District Court and Reuters reports that the filing said Uber agreed to reform its systems for compensation, reviews and promotions in addition to the monetary part. The $10 million is for financial and emotional harm to about 285 women and 135 men of color, according to Reuters.
The settlement comes from two actions filed against Uber in different California courts October. From the story:
On Oct. 24, Roxana del Toro Lopez and Ana Medina, who described themselves as Latina software engineers, filed an action in the Superior Court, followed by another three days later in the district court alleging classwide gender and race discrimination.
The lawsuit said Uber’s employee ranking system was “not based on valid and reliable performance measures” and favored men and white or Asian employees. As a result they lost out on earnings, promotions and benefits, they added.
The lawsuit followed a widely read blog post in February 2017 from another female engineer that described Uber’s work environment as one that tolerated and fostered sexual harassment.
The company will have to report back to the court and its employees regularly with demographics data, according to Reuters.
3rd Gear: Nissan And Renault In Talks To Become One Company, Sources Say
People with knowledge on the matter said the longtime Nissan and Renault alliance could merge into one company, according to a Bloomberg report. The talks have apparently been going on for several months, but no decision has been made and the sources told Bloomberg it could easily result in nothing.
The ownership stakes are there, but not without some barriers to get around. The French government owns 15 percent of Renault, though, and may not want its deal watered down by a merger, which has long been the roadblock between these companies fully joining one another.
A deal would end the current alliance between the companies and marry them as one corporation, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the details aren’t public. Renault currently owns 43 percent of Nissan while the Japanese carmaker has a 15 percent stake in its French counterpart. Carlos Ghosn, the chairman of both companies, is driving the negotiations and would run the combined entity, the people said.
A merged giant would be a more formidable rival for Volkswagen AG and Toyota Motor Corp. ... While the alliance of Renault and Nissan has brought savings, the fragmented ownership structure has prevented the companies from reaping full benefits from their union.
The parties are discussing a transaction in which Nissan would essentially give Renault shareholders stock in the new company, the people said. Nissan shareholders would also receive shares in the new company in exchange for their holdings, they said. The automaker may maintain headquarters in both Japan and France.
Bloomberg reports that both the French and Japanese governments would have to approve the deal, and, naturally, may not agree on where the company is headquartered.
4th Gear: Top Executive From GM’s Cruise Automation Is Out
After six months in the position, Recode reports that the former chief technology officer for General Motors’ Cruise Automation, AG Gangadhar, is out. Gangadhar was controversial for GM’s self-driving technology arm when it hired him, with people openly talking about sexism and harassment issues they claim they had under his management at Uber—including in an online essay from former Uber engineer Susan Fowler.
GM declined to tell Recode whether Gangadhar’s leaving Cruise had anything to do with the controversy from people who worked under him at Uber, but said they elected to part ways “after serious consideration.”
Gangadhar said he left the company because he and CEO Kyle Vogt had differing visions, according to Recode. Here’s what Gangadhar said:
Since I left Uber, I’ve been trying to move on from this story especially since I was cleared of any wrongdoing when others were not. Over the last 6 months I built the engineering executive team at Cruise bringing in 3 top VPs from companies such as Amazon, Hyperloop etc. One of the VP’s is a seasoned woman executive. In this competitive time of autonomous vehicles, this is no small feat. ...
Looking forward I plan to spend my time advising and investing in early stage technology companies, which is very exciting to me.
In the Recode excerpt, Gangadhar also said the known toxic culture at Uber is something he “would like to put behind [him], but not forget as it will forever influence the professional and personal decisions [he] make[s] on a daily basis.”
5th Gear: Lincoln Goes For Class And Style Over Aggression Aviator
Lincoln showed off its new Aviator SUV concept this week at the New York Auto Show, and it’s three rows of pretty on a rear-wheel-drive platform. It looks good!
As with Lincoln itself, the Aviator name badly needs a win, too, because it only lasted about three model years last time it was around.
The car is also a departure from the aggressive trends that crossovers and SUVs are taking now, Lincoln’s chief designer David Woodhouse told Bloomberg. This one isn’t about that—it’s about nice lines, not aggressive ones.
Hopefully that, and other things, will help it do better than the Aviator name did the first time around. From Bloomberg:
Ford is counting on this model to help inject a bit of youth into its luxury brand’s buyer base. Mid-size competitors like the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 appeal mainly to 35- to 44-year-olds and account for one-quarter of all luxury SUVs sold, according to the company. The average age of Lincoln buyers now stands at 60 — eight years above the average for the U.S. luxury-car industry.
The Aviator is the first of two new SUVs coming from Lincoln by 2020. It’ll be the first Ford product to allow owners to use their smartphone as the key to unlock doors and start the vehicle. The SUV also will be equipped with forward-facing cameras able to read the road, anticipate bumps and potholes and soften the ride.
Unlike the Navigator, the Aviator won’t have aluminum body panels but will use a “mix of metals,” according to chief engineer John Davis, who declined to elaborate.
Frankly it’s nice to see a new car not like an angry cyborg, or the Predator, so they’re on the right track with design here. The new Lincoln Navigator is also a huge step up from the old one, so Lincoln is on a roll right now.
Reverse: The Day Things Got Even Uglier For GM
On March 29, 2009, General Motors chief Rick Wagoner resigned at the request of President Barack Obama after more than eight years in the job, according to History. The company lost billions in 2008, and the day after Wagoner resigned, the president said GM would need a fundamental restructuring within 60 days for the government to consider loaning the company any more money.
GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy a few months later. Times are a lot better now, with Cadillac CEO Johan de Nysschen blaming slow sedan sales on teens and infrastructure.
Neutral: How’s Lincoln Doing?
The Aviator is another vehicle to satiate the unrelenting crossover and SUV market, but it sure looks nice. Hopefully it doesn’t change much from concept to production. Is Ford’s troubled luxury brand finally on the right track?