If You Thought Gas Prices Were Bad Now, I Have Bad News

Biden blocks sale of Russian oil, admits ‘There will be cost as well here in the United States’

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An electrical contractor repairs a sign with gasoline fuel prices above six and seven dollars a gallon at the Shell gas station at Fairfax and Olympic Blvd in Los Angeles, California, on March 8, 2022.
An electrical contractor repairs a sign with gasoline fuel prices above six and seven dollars a gallon at the Shell gas station at Fairfax and Olympic Blvd in Los Angeles, California, on March 8, 2022.
Photo: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images (Getty Images)

Maybe nobody at the Biden Administration has seen the “I did that” gas station stickers. Either way, things are looking bad for anyone expecting gas prices to go down. All that and more in The Morning Shift for March 9, 2022.

1st Gear: Biden Blocks Sale Of Russian Oil

On Tuesday President Biden announced he’s blocked buying Russian oil, as CNN details:

“Today I am announcing the United States is targeting the main artery of Russia’s economy. We’re banning all imports of Russian oil and gas and energy,” Biden said in remarks from the White House. “That means Russian oil will no longer be acceptable at US ports and the American people will deal another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine.”

[...]

Biden emphasized in his remarks that his decision will likely hurt Americans at the gas pump.

“The decision today is not without cost here at home,” Biden said. “Putin’s war is already hurting American families at the gas pump. Since Putin began his military build-up at Ukrainian borders, just since then, the price of gas at the pump in America went up 75 cents and with this action it’s going to go up further. I’m going to do everything I can to minimize Putin’s price hike here at home.”

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This announcement came just as Shell backtracked its previous position that it had made a “difficult decision” to profit off the war in Ukraine and buy a bunch of cheap oil from Russia. Shell quickly reversed its course on Tuesday and stopped buying Russian oil, as per the Financial Times.

Once more the desire to keep gas prices low runs directly against government plans to combat climate change. I think you can guess which side has been winning out! The International Energy Agency said it will be releasing yet more oil from its emergency stockpiles, per the FT, having already committed 60 million barrels last week.

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I will also add that Biden’s announcement that the U.S. will block Russian oil comes after Boris Johnson announced that the UK will block Russian oil. The UK will, of course, not take this moment to reflect on the impending doom that is climate change, and will instead commit to pulling more oil and gas out of the North Sea instead.

2nd Gear: I Also Have Bad News About That One Lovable EV Startup

Back in September 2021, we reported on Electric Last Mile Solutions, Inc., a somewhat fly-by-night looking startup out of Michigan that seemed to be importing what are very clearly Wuling EV50s from China and claiming that they’re some revolution in “Urban Delivery.” They even had the calling card of shady financing, SPAC funding. It seemed like a foolish venture, but foolish in a fun way. Little electric vans! I didn’t care if the business case seemed somewhat flimsy, I was rooting for them.

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Anyway, a quarter of the company’s staff are getting laid off, as the Reuters reports:

U.S. commercial electric vehicle maker Electric Last Mile Solutions Inc (ELMS) (ELMS.O) will lay off about 24% of its staff as it looks to focus on its core business and become leaner, the company disclosed in a regulatory filing on Friday.

The plan to terminate 50 employees was approved on Feb. 21, according to the regulatory filing.

The company, which is struggling with production due to supply chain hurdles, said on Feb. 1 that its top two executives, Chief Executive James Taylor and Chairman Jason Luo, had resigned following an investigation into their share purchases..

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I’m still rooting for you Electric Last Mile Solutions Inc!

3rd Gear: That Self-Driving Startup That Crashed In October Just Got A Historic Recall

Speaking of car startups, Pony.ai, a company that is developing not a whole self-driving car but rather self-driving car technology in and of itself, is getting a new historical landmark. It’s getting a first-of-its-kind recall, as Automotive News reports:

Startup technology firm Pony.ai agreed to issue a recall for some versions of its autonomous driving system software after an October crash in California, U.S. regulators said on Tuesday.

The recall covers three vehicles that have been repaired, the company told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency said on Tuesday this was the “first recall of an automated driving system” and that the specific software at issue had been in use by three vehicles.

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The recall comes after a Pony.ai-equipped car crashed into a pole back in October. No one was hurt.

4th Gear: Meanwhile Tesla Is Being Two-Faced About Autopilot

Not Tesla saying one thing about Autopilot to the general public and another thing to the government! Couldn’t be! While Tesla continues to encourage a very generous view of its suite of driver-assistance technologies not-at-all-mislabeled as “Autopilot,” it has also told regulators that drivers must remain absolutely constantly vigilant behind the wheel, as Reuters reports:

In a previously unreported March 4 letter to the senators, Tesla’s senior director, public policy and business development Rohan Patel, said the features enhance the ability of its customers “to drive safer than the average driver in the U.S.”

Patel noted that both systems “require the constant monitoring and attention of the driver.” Tesla vehicles are capable of performing “some but not all of the Dynamic Driving Tasks” that can be performed by human drivers, he added.

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There is a good German word “jaein,” which is just “yes” and “no” mashed together, and something that you say when someone tells you something that’s true but also not really.

Thematically, yes, you really do have to be paying attention at all times for Autopilot to be safe. But technically, no, the Tesla Autopilot system does not “require” you to be constantly vigilant. It will continue to blast you down the highway if you’re only half paying attention, or less than half, or if you’re having sex, whatever. You will be asked to retake control, but not always in time.

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5th Gear: Office Commuters Aren’t Cutting It For Metro Lines Anymore

We all at Jalopnik went back to work in the office this week (after we were all busy outside the week prior), and it has been strange putting some miles on my Metrocard again, riding the subway to midtown Manhattan and my office job.

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I’m still a long way from getting another monthly pass, my more youthful era of commuting five days a week and going out all through the weekend very much behind me. I am not alone, as detailed by a feature in the Wall Street Journal:

The nation’s biggest commuter railroads are preparing for potentially permanent shifts in daily ridership, declines that in some cases could threaten their long-term viability.

The changes are based on expectations that many office workers will continue to work from home at least part-time for years after the Covid-19 pandemic subsides. Transit officials in some cities have shifted schedules away from traditional rush-hour periods, or are doing more to attract suburbanites headed downtown for sporting events as a way to fill seats.

Agencies are also rolling out discounted ticket packages geared to occasional commuters, who no longer need to shell out hundreds of dollars for monthly passes that formed the bedrock of the commuter railroad business model.

Ridership on some U.S. commuter railroads has ticked up as the Omicron variant faded, but largely empty trains are common, according to data compiled by the American Public Transportation Association. The most recently reported weekday passenger counts at the nation’s five largest systems ranged between 25% and 55% of pre-pandemic levels, the systems said.

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The piece goes over some plans by various regional metros, trying to switch to a more general service provider than a commuter system. Weekend ridership has been bouncing back faster than mid-week traffic for BART in the Bay, for instance.

The piece doesn’t explicitly say that the government should just be forking more money over to these socially- and environmentally-friendly systems as opposed to continuing to subsidize car ownership, but it does say that government money has successfully kept a lot of these systems afloat through the pandemic.

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Reverse: Chrysler Buys AMC on March 9, 1987

Normally I would write something like “this went well,” but I think this did actually work out for the best, at least as far as Chrysler is concerned. Certainly it went better than Packard buying Studebaker! Har har har! Just a little humor out there for my car history nerds.

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Neutral: How Is Your Electric Car Charging Going?

I am in Los Angeles, Hell’s City, the City of Demons this week, and it is warm and sunny and I am borrowing an electric car (a Kia Niro EV) so I am vaguely insulated from high gas prices. It brings to mind a general question: How has EV charging been going for you EV owners out there? Are you putting in solar this summer? Has your local fast-charger been acting up? Let’s hear it.