Consumer Reports Calls Out Tesla's Smart Summon

Smart Summon in action.
Screenshot: Tesla
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Hello and welcome to a new day, a new year. I hope you feel as though you are true to yourself, because there are a lot of car companies in need of some self-reflection today for The Morning Shift of Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

1st Gear: So CR Tested Tesla Smart Summon And Charitably Called It A ‘Science Experiment’

Tesla tech is great when you know, expect, and follow within its limitations. How that tech is used in the real world, by eager and/or ignorant drivers fed on Tesla’s boisterous self-promotion, doesn’t always look like that. As such, it’s little surprise to see how the Smart Summon roll-out has gone.

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But that’s all real-world yahoos having issues. What about when the serious professionals at Consumer Reports got their hands on Smart Summon for its Model 3? Er. Could have been better:

Jake Fisher, CR’s senior director of auto testing, says consumers are not getting fully tested, consumer-ready technology. In essence, he says, Tesla owners are being enlisted as beta testers to help fine-tune the technology for the future—even though they’re paying $6,000 up front for the promised automation.

“What consumers are really getting is the chance to participate in a kind of science experiment,” he says. “This is a work in progress.”

What CR really digs into is that Tesla has been hyping the shit out of its tech for “more than a year” only for the first stuff Tesla users are experiencing to be, uh, less than fully-baked:

For more than a year before its release, Musk stoked interest in Smart Summon with public comments, describing how Tesla owners would be able to use their vehicles like remote-controlled toys that could follow car owners around like pets.

CR’s experience with the system shows that Smart Summon can exit a parking space, turn and start moving toward the vehicle owner, and negotiate around stationary objects. It also can detect and stop for pedestrians and slow down if it senses cross traffic.

But we found that the system works only intermittently, depending on the car’s reading of the surroundings. The system is designed to work only in private parking lots, but sometimes it seemed confused about where it was. In one case, the system worked in one section of a private lot, but in another part of the lot it mistakenly detected that it was on a public road and shut itself down. At various times, our Model 3 would suddenly stop for no obvious reason.

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CR claims it reached out to Tesla for comment but that the company hasn’t returned its numerous calls or emails. Given the history of the two together, I find that both unsurprising and a little disappointing.

I do look forward to what the Feds have to say about it all, at least.

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2nd Gear: Uber Drivers (And Google Employees) Are Turning To A 1978 Labor Book For Help

If you didn’t grow up in a lefty household, you may not have heard of the Wobblies, but the lessons of that movement are still relevant today, as both Google employees and Uber drivers find themselves with the need to organize but no union infrastructure to do it in. That’s all in a fantastic new report from The New York Times, elaborating how 1978's Labor Law for the Rank and Filer has gone viral in the tech world:

Just before 20,000 Google employees left their desks last fall to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment, a debate broke out among the hundreds of workers involved in formulating a list of demands.

Some workers argued that they could win fairer pay policies and a full accounting of harassment claims by filing lawsuits or seeking to unionize.

But the argument that gained the upper hand, especially as the debate escalated in the weeks after the walkout, held that those approaches would be futile, according to two people involved. Those who felt this way contended that only a less formal, worker-led organization could succeed, by waging mass resistance or implicitly threatening to do so.

This view, based on century-old ideas, did not emerge in a vacuum. It can be traced in part to a book called “Labor Law for the Rank and Filer,” which many Googlers had read and discussed.

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Never forget that corporations and the U.S. government have been working to gut labor for decades!

3rd Gear: BMW To Boost SUV Sales To ‘Cover’ EV Switch Costs

This is an entertaining one if you view EVs as a social good rather than, just, you know, an industrial product produced by notoriously conservative car companies. BMW has long been struggling with the added development costs of what it considers new technology (please forget that BMW has been experimenting with EVs for decades) and its current solution may be its most image-conscious yet. Wait, no. The opposite of that.

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As Bloomberg notes in a wire report:

BMW AG will more than double sales of lucrative X7 sport utility vehicles and luxury cruisers to fight flagging profits and the costly shift to electric cars.

Next year, the company plans to deliver between 135,000 and 145,000 of 7-Series sedans, 8-Series sports cars, as well as the X7 SUV, M8 performance coupe and i8 plug-in hybrid sports car, BMW Chief Financial Officer Nicolas Peter said Thursday. That’s up from about 65,000 last year, which is expected to grow to roughly 110,000 vehicles this year. The jump is largely thanks to the X7, which hit dealerships in March and comes with a standard 340-horsepower engine and options including a 4.4 liter V8.

“The important topic for us is how do we get our profitability up,” Peter told reporters in Munich, emphasizing growing i3 electric car sales in light of criticism leveled at SUVs as gas guzzlers. 

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Bloomberg goes on to note that BMW is in a cost-cutting program right now, which just shines more of a light on how the company has been wasting time for years now letting its i-cars whither on the vine. How well its catch up program will work remains to be seen, but it has already lost one executive to it and the outlook doesn’t seem fantastic.

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4th Gear: Workers At GM Pulling In 40 Percent Less Than Coworkers

They’re working on the same lines, but they’re temp workers. Or at least they’re categorized as temps. Bloomberg profiled a temp worker on the job for just over three years, long past the point of when she expected to go full time:

Jaymi Jendon assembles parts at a General Motors Co. engine plant in Romulus, Michigan. She gets paid $18.44 an hour. All around her, co-workers earn much more — between $28 and $32 an hour. They also get health insurance and paid vacation. She gets mini-versions of those things.

The difference: Jendon, 42, was hired as a temporary employee and, even after three years at the factory, remains one today. She had given up her job as a hair salon manager to work at GM, hoping it would quickly lead to a full-time gig.

“It was kind of preached to us that it was going to be a better lifestyle, we’d be middle class and be able to do a few things fun, take some vacations,” says Jendon. “But it’s definitely not been.”

The Jaymi Jendons used to represent a tiny minority of the unionized workers at the Detroit Three, but their ranks have swelled over the past decade to represent almost 10% of their combined, 150,000-strong workforce.

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The temp situation has been getting worse, as that wire report notes, with numbers ballooning over the past decade. Add “pay equality” to the things GM needs to fix in the UAW strike.

5th Gear: Germany: Stop Riding E-Scooters Drunk

The wave of “mobility solutions” make pretty old-school tech (like mopeds and scooters) seem new again, and along with this fresh, face-smacking novelty comes a collective amnesia that these things are vehicles like they always have been and road rules apply. Anyone who has seen a Revel in Brooklyn acting like a bicyclist will know it, and apparently anyone at Oktoberfest this year will know it, too, as Der Spiegel reports:

According to its own statement, the Munich police found 774 alcohol trips, of which 414 at e-scooter riders. 254 scooter users were deprived of their driving license. Also in the 21 accidents in connection with e-scooters at the Oktoberfest 13 drivers were drunk. In total, 15 people were injured.

Many drivers are not aware of how dangerous driving is under the influence of alcohol, says Gerhard Hillebrand, specialist lawyer for traffic and criminal law. In an interview with DER SPIEGEL, he explains the consequences alcohol driving on e-scooters can have.Reverse:

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Just because these things have an app doesn’t magically remove them from the rules of the road or the laws of physics for that matter. Thank you.

Reverse: The First Automotive Highway Opened In Long Island

Via 365daysofmotoring:

The first 10 mile section of the 45 mile Long Island Motor Parkway (LIMP), also known as the Vanderbilt Parkway and Motor Parkway on Long Island, New York, opened to traffic. It was the first roadway designed for automobile use only. The road was privately built by William Kissam Vanderbilt II at a cost of $6 million with overpasses and bridges to remove intersections. It opened as a toll road and closed in 1938 when it was taken over by the state of New York in lieu of back taxes. Parts of the parkway survive today in sections of other roadways and as a bicycle trail in Queens.

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Neutral: Have You Been A Temp At A Car Company? We Want To Hear Your Stories.

Were you ever stuck in years of temp-status? Were your coworkers? How did it all play out?

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About the author

Raphael Orlove

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.