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The kids aren’t into the cars, Tesla’s making big claims about self-driving, Carlos Ghosn is in more trouble and so much more for The Morning Shift of Monday, April 22, 2019.

1st Gear: Generation Z Is Too Busy and Poor to Be Bothered With Cars

Today if you’re a teen and want to get around you can order an Uber or Lyft or any number of ride-hailing services that exist. You also probably don’t have $35,000 or whatever to buy a new car. You also are involved in a lot of extracurricular shit at school, because you have to, because that’s how you get into a “good” college. You also are more likely to live in a city, where public transportation is more of an option.

Or, if you’re none of those things, you’re just poor, and don’t even have the pennies to buy a used car, and cars—more expensive than ever—hold as much appeal as any other money pit. All of which means that Generation Z, The Wall Street Journal reports, is a bit less enamored with The Cars than generations before it.

I’m always a bit skeptical of trend stories like this, but the WSJ has some real numbers behind it, as well as the usual anecdotes.

The percentage of teens with a driver’s license has tumbled in the last few decades and more young people are delaying purchasing their first car—if buying one at all, say analysts, generational experts and car industry executives. About a quarter of 16-year-olds had a driver’s license in 2017, a sharp decline from nearly half in 1983, according to an analysis of licensing data by transportation researcher Michael Sivak.

[...]

“That freedom of getting your own wheels and a license—and that being the most important thing in life—is gone,” said Brent Wall, owner of All Star Driver Education in Michigan, a chain of drivers’-ed schools. He said the average age of students in his class is rising. “It used to be the day they turned 14 years and eight months, everybody was lining up at the door. Now I’m starting to see more 15- and 16-year-olds in class.” He frequently hears from parents that they’re the ones pushing their children to enroll.

[...]

J.D. Power estimates that Gen Zers will purchase about 120,000 fewer new vehicles this year compared with millennials in 2004, when they were the new generation of drivers—or 488,198 vehicles versus 607,329 then.

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What’s going on here? As the WSJ notes, cost is a big factor, as new cars average around $35,000, or more money than I, an old millennial who’s managed to stay employed (somehow) for over a decade have ever seen with my own eyes. But there’s also student loans, a national crisis that has only gotten bigger and bigger.

If you’re paying $1,000 in student loan payments every month, trying to pay down a debt that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, taking on a car loan probably is lower on your priority list. Driver’s education is increasingly not taught in public schools, meaning that it can be an expense of hundreds of dollars on top of, you know, actually buying a car.

Generation Zers grew up during the financial crisis and tend to be more budget-conscious, according to researchers who study generational trends. In addition, many face substantial student-loan payments, making them more cautious about big-ticket purchases. Total student-loan debt has soared to $1.5 trillion, surpassing Americans’ credit-card and car-loan bills.

The process for teenagers is also getting more expensive. State budget cuts have meant that many public schools no longer offer free driver’s training and a private course can cost upward of a thousand dollars, say driver’s-ed professionals.

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Carmakers have historically been pretty bad about targeting young people, affordability or not. Remember Saturn and Scion? Both made interesting cars but they also didn’t necessarily set the teen world on fire, and a lot of them ended up getting bought by the Olds. Anyway, scooters.

2nd Gear: Tesla’s Unveiling Some ‘Full Self-Driving’ Stuff Today

CEO Elon Musk has been talking this up for awhile. Today’s event, scheduled for early afternoon, is intended to show off the company’s tech, which has a lot of skeptics. From the Associated Press:

“I could be wrong, but it appears to be the case that Tesla is vastly ahead of everyone,” Musk told Lex Fridman, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research scientist specializing in autonomous vehicles.

But experts say they’re skeptical whether Tesla’s technology has advanced anywhere close to the point where its cars will be capable of being driven solely by a robot, without a human in position to take control if something goes awry.

“It’s all hype,” said Steven E. Shladover, a retired research engineer at the University of California, Berkeley who has been involved in efforts to create autonomous driving for 45 years. “The technology does not exist to do what he is claiming. He doesn’t have it and neither does anybody else.”

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And as the AP points out, all of Musk’s hype is pretty dangerous.

Musk’s description of Tesla’s controls as “Full Self-Driving” has alarmed some observers who think it will give owners a false sense of security and create potentially lethal situations in conditions that the autonomous cars can’t handle.

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By all accounts, Waymo is pretty far ahead of everyone in full self-driving efforts, and the reality seems to be that having a car that is full self-driving in all conditions (including inclement weather, including roads the car is unfamiliar with, including accounting for every small thing the car could encounter while driving) is pretty dang hand and will take years and years of testing to solve, if we ever do. Elon can still tweet though, that part is easy enough.

3rd Gear: Carlos Ghosn Indicted for the Fourth Time as Nissan’s Partnership With Renault Remains Uneasy

Ghosn was indicted again Monday, according to Reuters. This is the fourth charge against him. The charges all have to do with alleged financial misconduct, and have all been denied by Ghosn, who contends that he is the victim of a boardroom whacking.

According to the latest indictment, Ghosn caused a total of $5 million in losses to Nissan from July 2017 through July 2018.

During that period, prosecutors allege two separate payments of $5 million were made from the account of a Nissan subsidiary into the account of an overseas dealership. A total of $5 million was subsequently transferred from the dealership’s account to another account in which Ghosn had an interest.

Nissan said it had filed a criminal complaint against the former chairman in relation to the matter, saying it had determined that some of its overseas payments had been ordered by Ghosn for his personal enrichment.

The payments were “not necessary from a business standpoint”, Nissan said in a statement. “Such misconduct is completely unacceptable, and Nissan is requesting appropriately strict penalties.”

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Ghosn was re-arrested April 4 and has been held ever since. He had been out on $9 million bail, but Japanese law gives prosecutors wide latitude to detain suspects, as Ghosn’s lawyers continue to seek bail.

Before Ghosn’s latest arrest, he had been out on $9 million bail for 30 days. He is now being held in the same Tokyo detention center where he was detained for 108 days following his initial arrest on the tarmac at a Tokyo airport in November.

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The Ghosn news also comes as Nissan’s partnership with Renault (and Mitsubishi) is under increasing tension, as Nissan demands an equal stake with the French automaker. It was Ghosn who championed the alliance for years, though Nissan has felt disrespected as of late.

Nissan’s management feels the Japanese company has not been treated as an equal of Renault under existing capital ties, and a merger would make this inequality permanent, Nikkei said.

Renault has argued in its proposal that an integration would maximize synergies within the French-Japanese alliance, according to Nikkei.

The Financial Times had earlier reported in late March of Renault’s intention to restart merger talks with Nissan within 12 months.

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The Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi partnership has always felt necessary to me in a broader sense, so I suspect they will eventually work it out, if only to remain viable in a globalized car market that is swiftly changing.

4th Gear: China’s Trying to Kickstart Its Sagging Car Market

The country is making it easier to get a license, according to Reuters. Car sales in China reduced last year for the first time in decades, bad news for a country that has huge aspirations in the push for electric vehicles.

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Per Reuters:

Caixin said China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) had issued a document containing the proposals on April 11, without saying how the magazine had obtained it. Copies of the document were widely circulated on Chinese social media on Wednesday.

According to the document, the NDRC is considering plans to increase the number of newly issued automobile licenses in big cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou by 50 percent this year, and double that next year, from current 2018 levels, Caixin said.

It also said local governments should not implement traffic restrictions and curbs on buying EVs, and should remove relevant measures if already taken.

Efforts by Reuters to reach the NDRC for comment were unsuccessful outside business hours. Caixin said people close to NDRC’s policymaking department did not deny the authenticity of the document.

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5th Gear: Automakers Are Starting to See the Light on Touchscreens

Touchscreens are bad, I’ve argued in the past, mainly because they take quite a bit of attention to operate while driving, and automakers’ implementation of them—so far—has not really mitigated many of those risks. So it’s refreshing to see that automakers are starting to turn against them. Mazda is, for example, and now Jaguar executive says that he’s against them, too.

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Per Bloomberg:

[Ian Callum, Jaguar’s director of design] launched into a minor screed against giant touch screens — the kind Tesla Inc. pioneered in the Model S, which is now popping up across the industry in vehicles including Toyota Motor Corp.’s new Highlander SUV and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Ram pickups.

“If you’re driving 80-90 miles an hour — and you can in some countries, legally — you don’t want to be flipping around an iPad looking to move your door mirrors or your seat controls,” Callum said. “You need to be able to feel your way through the car without looking at it for more than a millisecond.”

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Hear, hear, Ian.

Reverse: RIP Mr. Royce

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Neutral: Are You a Teen? How Do You Feel About The Cars?

I earnestly am interested. When I was a teen I desperately wanted my driver’s license, but that wasn’t because I was head-over-heels about cars, it was more about a basic freedom. Anyway, thoughts?