The assembly line at the General Motors Flint Assembly Plant.
Photo: Bill Pugliano (Getty Images)
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General Motors’ unionized American workforce falls behind, Toyota and Mazda continue to partner further with each other, the Kia Telluride, Toyota Corolla, and Toyota Matrix get recalled, and the Detroit Auto Show home gets a new name. All of this and more in The Morning Shift for Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.

1st Gear: General Motors’ Unionized Workforce

General Motors, Bloomberg reports, now has the fewest unionized American workers of the Big Three—itself, Ford and Fiat Chrysler—for the first time since the United Auto Workers began to organize decades ago.

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GM has 46,000 UAW employees, Bloomberg reported based on company head counts, falling behind Ford by around 9,000 and FCA by 1,200. That’s compared to 2011, when Bloomberg reports via the Center for Automotive Research that GM had 46,000, Ford had 41,000, and FCA had 23,150.

Some of it has to do with plant closures and moving production out of the U.S., Bloomberg noted. From the story:

At its peak forty years ago, GM employed 618,365 Americans, including 511,000 hourly workers. That was back when the automaker did much of its parts production in-house. [...]

The financial crisis a decade ago played a major role in downsizing the company. GM had so much excess production when the company filed for bankruptcy in 2009 that the automaker closed 14 plants and cut thousands of workers. In recent years, GM has trimmed more jobs at passenger-car plants as sales of sedans industrywide have cratered.

While GM is a shadow of what it once was in the U.S. in terms of payroll and vehicle production, since emerging from bankruptcy, the $23 billion that it’s invested in the U.S. is nearly five times the amount it has spent in Mexico.

Bloomberg has much more on the story here.

2nd Gear: Toyota And Mazda Further Intertwine

Manufacturers love teaming up, and Toyota and Mazda are like high-school besties anymore. They’ve got a giant, $1.6-billion auto plant in Alabama, and now, Mazda’s going to lean on its dear friend Toyota for financial services.

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Automotive News reports that Mazda confirmed it’s leaving its decade-long financial partner, JPMorgan Chase, for Toyota Financial Services on April 1. Toyota will offer financing, leasing, and “vehicle protection products and services” to U.S. Mazda customers, the story said, and Mazda said it picked Toyota’s financial branch due to its “deep knowledge of financing within the auto industry.”

From Automotive News:

The shift to TFS further tightens Mazda’s ties with Toyota, which is a partner with Mazda on several projects, including an assembly plant under construction in Alabama and a production agreement at a factory in Mexico that provides subcompact cars sold in the U.S. under the Toyota Yaris nameplate.

[Mazda North American Operations President Jeff] Guyton said that partnering with TFS was a logical extension of the current partnerships between the two Japanese automakers.

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“Toyobaru” rolls off of the tongue well enough, but what do we call Toyota’s ever-deepening ties with Mazda? Hm.

3rd Gear: Watch Those Seat Belts In The Kia Telluride

More than 30,000 models of the 2020 Kia Telluride are under a seat-belt recall so major that the affected vehicles fail to comply with one of the basic Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, as spotted by Automotive News. Maybe go get those checked out, if you’re involved.

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The recall is for 30,168 vehicles, according to documents filed with the NHTSA, and the estimated percentage of those with the defect is 1 percent. But don’t assume you’re safe with the odds, because the affected vehicles have seat belts in the front passenger, second row and third row that aren’t equipped with an automatic-locking retractor feature to be used for child restraints.

Here’s what happens without that, via the documents:

If a non-ALR seat belt is used to secure a child seat in the front passenger, second or third row seats, it may not tightly secure a child restraint system, increasing the risk of injury to a child seat occupant in a crash.

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The seat belts that violate the U.S. safety standards, recall documents said, were designed for the Middle East market.

Violating the U.S. safety standards means affected Tellurides can’t be delivered under a sale or lease until they’re fixed, and recall documents said dealers have already been notified about the issue. Owner notification will happen on Friday, the documents said.

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4th Gear: Detroit Auto Show Home Gets A New Name

Area station WDIV reports that the venue for the Detroit Auto Show, previously called the Cobo Center, has a new name: the TCF Center, for TCF Bank. And, sure, while the brands are slowly consuming us all, this isn’t a bad thing.

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The center’s old name honored 1950s city mayor Albert Cobo, the station notes, who instituted racist policies. Here’s more, from the Associated Press:

The move also purges a negative aspect of Detroit’s history: Albert Cobo, who served as mayor from 1950 to 1957, sought to keep blacks out of predominantly white neighborhoods. The convention center opened on the Detroit River waterfront in 1960, three years after Cobo died.

“From an image standpoint in the city, state and nation, being able to remove that negative connotation, which has been there for so many years, adds to the importance of this great announcement,” authority chairman Larry Alexander told The Associated Press.

Vestiges of racism and intolerance are slowly being moved and removed in Michigan and other northern states, spurred by more widespread efforts in the South to erase the nation’s slave past. In the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, a statue of former Mayor Orville Hubbard — who spent decades trying to keep the city all white — was socked away for more than a year after leaders decided it didn’t belong outside a new City Hall. The Hubbard statue now stands beside a small museum.

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The Detroit Auto Show is also changing, and will be held in the summer next year instead of January in Michigan.

5th Gear: Toyota Recalls 135,000 Corolla and Matrix Models For, You Guessed It, More Takata Fixes

More recalls? Of course, because there are always recalls.

Toyota announced on Wednesday that it’s recalling around 135,000 vehicles for airbag problems, which span Corollas from the 2003 through 2008 model years and Matrix models from the 2005 through 2008 model years. If “Takata” was the first thing that came to mind when you saw the mention of an airbag recall, you would happen to be correct.

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The “front passenger airbag in the subject vehicles was repaired under a prior recall,” Toyota said in the announcement, meaning it’s time to go back and get it fixed again. Here’s the deal now, via Toyota:

If one of these airbags deploys, there is a possibility that it could be damaged. Such damage could cause the airbag to not properly inflate, and this could increase the risk of occupant injury in the event of a crash.

This recall is about a new and different issue where the airbag may not deploy as designed in certain vehicles that received a remedy as part of previous Takata recalls.

For all involved vehicles, Toyota dealers will replace the front passenger airbag assembly with an improved one at no cost to customers.

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The announcement said owners of the affected vehicles will hear about them by the end of October, and that people can check recalls here or here.

Reverse: Goodyear Is Incorporated

On Aug. 29, 1898, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company was incorporated, around the time when the “bicycle craze of the 1890s was booming” and the “horseless carriage was a wide-open challenge,” according to the company’s website. Many more were to come.

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Neutral: Does Your Vehicle Have Any Open Recalls?

You know when might be a good time to check on that? Now, actually. Go here, for U.S. drivers.