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: Driverless Cars In Production
A couple months back we dropped the first look at General Motors’ fully-autonomous car that lacked steering wheels or a pedal, prompting literally some car enthusiasts to run for the hills screaming bloody murder.
The sparse Bolt AV that was shown is part of GM’s effort to quickly accelerate its development of self-driving cars, with plans to launch some sort of commercial service by next year. Now, it’s spending $100 million ahead of that date to prep two of its factories to build the robot vehicles, explains Reuters:
General Motors Co said on Thursday it will invest more than $100 million in two facilities as it prepares to build production versions of its Cruise self-driving car next year at its Orion Township assembly plant in Michigan.
The largest U.S. automaker also said roof modules for GM’s self-driving vehicles will be assembled at its Brownstown Battery Assembly plant.
In January, GM filed a petition seeking U.S. government approval for a fully autonomous car - one without a steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator pedal - to enter the automaker’s first commercial ride-sharing fleet in 2019.
The feds haven’t responded to that petition yet, but I wonder if they’ll be paying attention to a story that was published by The Information this week on GM’s autonomous car program.
The upshot? The technology just isn’t ready for the primetime yet; the Information says GM’s going to “find it difficult to achieve its aim of launching by next year a taxi service using self-driving cars ‘at scale in dense urban environments.’”
2nd Gear: U.S. Barters With Europe Over Possible Trade War
President Donald Trump has been dialing up the trade war fervor to 11 as of late, implementing a 25 percent tariff on foreign steel, and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum (with some caveats). He’s also threatening Europe with a tariff on the cars it makes. But Trump’s promising to be “flexible,” and in that spirit (I guess), the U.S. is setting conditions for what it needs from Europe in return for scrapping the tariffs, according to Reuters.
Citing German magazine Der Spiegel, the conditions involve “capping U.S.-bound exports of the metals at 2017 levels,” Reuters says:
The European Union has been pushing for talks to avert a trade war since U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would slap tariffs on a raft of high-value European exports in retaliation for alleged steel and aluminium dumping.
The conditions named by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer at a Brussels meeting with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom also included a promise that Brussels take measures against steel dumping from China and cooperate in a wide range of other trade issues, Spiegel reported on Friday.
What a time to be alive.
3rd Gear: Fiat Loses Jeep Fatal Fire Case
For years, Fiat Chrysler has been locked in litigation in Georgia over the death of a 4-year-old boy, Remington Walden, who burned to death after a Jeep Grand Cherokee he was riding in was struck from behind. The vehicle’s rear gas tank leaked, setting the vehicle on fire, before killing the child. The Jeep was among more than a million FCA vehicles with rear fuel tanks that were subject to a recall.
A 2015 trial ended with FCA being ordered to pay $40 million to the family, but the automaker appealed the case up to the Georgia Supreme Court. On Thursday, the state’s highest court upheld the decision, reports the Wall Street Journal:
The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the results of a wrongful death trial that hit Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV with nearly $40 million in legal damages on account of a Jeep fire that killed a 4-year-old boy.
The court’s nine justices on Thursday unanimously rejected arguments from the Italian-U.S. auto maker that a trial judge erred in allowing plaintiffs’ lawyers to present Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne’s compensation as evidence in the case.
An FCA spokesperson told the WSJ the automaker’s “disappointed in this decision” and that it’s “considering our legal options.”
4th Gear: NLRB Dismisses Some Charges Against Tesla
We first reported in December that the UAW had accused Tesla of interrogating employees at its massive Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada over union activities. It had been the first time Tesla faced alleged labor violations at the Gigafactory, since employees at the automaker’s assembly plant in California went public with a union campaign.
The unfair labor practice charge (ULP) accused Tesla by saying it has intimidated, surveilled and interrogated Gigafactory employees who’ve engaged in legally-protected union activities, a violation of the National Labor Relations Act.
But earlier this month, the NLRB dismissed some of those charges. In a letter, dated March 5, an NLRB regional director wrote:
Based on that investigation, I have decided to dismiss the portions of the charge alleging that [Tesla violated the NLRB Act] by engaging in and/or creating the impression of surveillance of employees’ Union activities and subjecting an employee to heightened supervisory standards because of the employee’s Union activities because there is insufficient evidence to establish a violation of the Act.
The NLRB also dismissed charges that Tesla disciplined or discriminated against an employee because of union-related activities. However, the claims that Tesla “orally promulgating a rule requiring employees to submit their workplace concerns solely to supervisors and managers and by interrogating employees,” remains subject to further processing, the letter said.
Tesla declined to comment.
5th Gear: Toyota And Uber Working On Self-Driving Cars
Everyone’s partnering with someone these days on autonomous vehicles—including, now, one of the biggest automakers in the world and a company so deeply invested in robot cars that it’s founder considered it existential. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, ride-hailing company Uber is going to sell self-driving car systems to Toyota:
Uber is now is negotiating a deal with Toyota, discussing the possibility of installing its self-driving system in a minivan made by the Japanese automaker. Shigeki Tomoyama, a Toyota executive vice president, and Gill Pratt, who heads the automaker’s artificial intelligence development base in Silicon Valley, met with Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi this week at Uber’s research and development center in Pittsburgh in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.
Eric Meyhofer, head of Uber’s advanced technologies group, said the system centrally processes data from cameras, sensors and lidar, a type of technology that measures distances using laser pulses. The system can be installed after sale in ordinary vehicles and enables automated driving, except under emergency situations.
The partnership isn’t entirely a surprise. At this year’s CES conference, Toyota announced it was teaming up with Uber as part of an effort to jump into the AV space. In particular, Toyota wants to build an autonomous boxy pod thing by 2020. Maybe this new Uber partnership is a way to make that happen.
Reverse: Remember This One?
Neutral: Anything Fun Today?
GM’s spending $100 million to build AVs that might not be ready for the primetime. Trade war hoopala. Toyota’s working with Uber on self-driving cars. What’s fun out there today? It’s Friday after all.