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 stories you need to know.
1st Gear: Repenting Elon
By now, I’m sure you’re all caught up on Elon Musk and the saga of his “pedo” comment. (If you aren’t, here ya go.) The blowblack was swift, with open letters being written to him, demanding an apology. And today, he finally did! In a weird, half-assed kind of way.
As with most Elon announcements, this one also came through Twitter. Here’s how it happened.
Some rando found a Quora article (lol) and posted it.
Elon Musk, ever with one eye on the Twitter, looking out for praise and/or criticism, spotted it and replied, purring with satisfaction. He didn’t let anyone forget what was said to him first.
And then, finally, he apologized.
While it’s good that Elon apologized, you have to wonder why he’s in this mess in the first place. I’m not talking about wanting to build the sub, by the way. PR stunt or not, he was trying to help. And that’s great. The issue here is that he failed and someone called him out on it.
But, rather than take the opportunity to learn and listen, he fired back in one of the worst ways possible and now might be facing a lawsuit.
He could have just said nothing and moved on with his life. He could have just not tweeted. Never tweet.
2nd Gear: United Against One Evil
It’s funny how adversity tends to unite people. Even ones that typically compete with one another. These days, it’s different members of the automotive industry against Trump’s proposed autos import tariffs.
Yesterday, seven lobbying groups that represent different segments of the industry sent a letter to President Trump in an attempt to convince him to change his mind, reports the Detroit News.
From the story:
Groups that lobby for both Detroit manufacturers and their foreign counterparts will testify at a public comment hearing organized by the U.S. Commerce Department on Thursday, which is considering the duties under the guise of national security. The agency received 2,356 written comments — mostly negative — that included submissions from General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Co.
The letter reads:
“We have come together as a united U.S. auto industry — domestic and international automobile manufacturers, suppliers, dealers and auto care businesses — to urge your Administration to achieve fair trade through policies that won’t jeopardize American jobs, our economy or U.S. technological leadership.
“Raising tariffs on autos and auto parts would be a massive tax on consumers who buy or service their vehicles — whether imported or domestically produced,” the groups continued. “These higher costs will inevitably lead to declining sales and the loss of American jobs, as well as increasing vehicle service and repair costs that may result in consumers delaying critical vehicle maintenance.”
The Detroit News called it “a rare show of industry-wide unity.”
And they should be united! No carmaker, foreign or domestic, produces 100 percent of its cars in the bubble of the United States. All of them source parts from other countries because it’s a highly globalized industry. The tariffs could result in a higher cost of supplies, which would ultimately lead to lower consumer demand and cost automaker jobs.
Personally, I don’t think this letter and show of unity will make a difference. But, I’ve been wrong before. I hope to be now.
3rd Gear: Women Can Sell Cars, Too, You Know
Presently, women make the majority of car-buying decisions, about 85 percent, according to a 2015 report by CDK Global, a market research company. You’d be right if you then, logically, thought that maybe more women should be selling those cars, too. Women tend to know what other women want.
Happily, there are three Detroit-area car dealerships that are run by women that have grown in sales and service revenue after making more female hires, reports the Detroit Free Press. But women are still the minority in most dealer leadership roles.
One of the biggest issues is that women don’t tend to think that they have a chance at a career in the automotive industry because it’s traditionally been seen as an “old boys’ club.” In many ways, it still is, unfortunately. From the story:
“The perception that the car sales industry is an old boys club where women are treated as an easy mark still persists,” wrote the study’s author Tess Karesky, a market research analyst.
That stereotype was highlighted in June when an arbitrator ruled that auto supplier Visteon had reason to fire its former CEO Timothy Leuliette for downloading pornography and soliciting prostitutes on his work computer.
Female customers get intimidated by an all-male dealership staff, too:
“It’s this impression that drives negative attitudes toward buying a car,” Karesky wrote in her study. “Women worry that they will be ignored, disrespected, patronized and taken advantage of by dealers.”
The three women who run dealerships in Detroit said that by hiring more women and giving them customer-facing jobs, they are able to better accommodate their customers’ needs, like scheduling car service around busy schedules. They say that their female employees demonstrate more empathy, which puts their customers more at ease.
Ladies! If you’re reading this, know that there are plenty of jobs for you in the auto industry. You don’t have to be a dude to like cars. You can run a dealership, be a car designer, a hydrogen fuel-cell engineer, a safety engineer, a race car driver or someone who builds the race cars. The possibilities are endless.
4th Gear: Too Much Leeway
Self-driving cars can be the solution to all the needless road fatalities we suffer here in the U.S. Yet, after a few fatal crashes involving Uber and Tesla self-driving cars, safety advocates are saying that maybe we should slow up a bit before we deploy more self-driving cars on public roads.
In particular, the piece of legislation in question is the AV START Act, which, according to Automotive News, “would create a framework for regulating deployment of automated vehicles on public roadways.” Several Democrats think that the bill, in its current form, “gives industry too much leeway to ignore basic safety standards when the technology remains unproven” and that “absent those objections, the bill could pass by unanimous consent without a vote.”
A letter written to senators by safety and consumer advocates reads:
“The FAA has rigorous protocols for ensuring the safety of automation in the air, and examples of the success of effective standards and oversight of automated systems fly over our heads every single day. Conversely, the AV START Act, in its current form, would shockingly allow potentially millions of vehicles on the market to be exempt from meeting existing safety standards.”
If EVs truly are to be superior to human drivers in every way, then we better make damn sure that they are. This means tighter regulations, stricter testing and more thorough investigations into when the technology has failed. Because we cannot afford it to fail when it’s deployed en masse.
5th Gear: Another Chinese Tesla Competitor
Recently, Tesla announced that it would finally open its first international factory in Shanghai. While that’s happening, another Chinese tech startup might be trying to steal Elon’s thunder.
It’s a four-year-old startup called Xpeng Motors Technology Ltd. Headed up by Henry Xia, Xpeng Motors has backing from giants like Alibaba Group Holding, Foxconn and Xiaomi Corp, according to Bloomberg. The company expects to raise over $600 million this month from its investors, which would bring its value to about $4 billion, an unnamed source said.
From the story:
Xia explains why the company nicknamed this car David: “We’re going up against Goliath,” he says, referring to the hundreds of automakers churning out electric vehicles in China, where half of the world’s EVs are sold. “It’s not about the physical car anymore, which anyone can now manufacture,” Xia says, “but about building a robot on wheels.”
Xpeng is primed to capitalize on a trade tussle that is already jacking up car prices. As China hits back against the U.S. with retaliatory tariffs, import duties on American-made cars have increased to 40 percent. But perhaps the bigger opportunity comes from Tesla Inc.’s still-diminutive presence in China, creating an opening for local startups to hawk cheaper, technology-centric electric vehicles.
Because Tesla was slow to open its factory in China (insisting on sole ownership), many established Chinese automakers were able to beat it in EV sales. Plus, those cars weren’t affected by import tariffs, making them more attractive to Chinese buyers.
And the onslaught probably won’t be letting up soon, either. China’s tech leaders are flush with cash and EVs are comparatively easier to build than traditional cars. It’s the perfect breeding ground for new car startups.
Reverse: Welcome, “The Maestro”
Neutral: What Can We Do To Get More Women Into Working In The Auto Industry?
Do we expose women to the possibility of a career here at a younger age? Do we do away with gendered upbringing?