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: I’ve Been Worried About This Myself
I hobble out onto my porch with my walker and shake my knobbly old fist at the clouds and scream at the new and evolving technology. All this self-driving crap, it’s going to ruin us! Ruin us!
I’m being dramatic. But the concern about self-driving tech “eroding” driving skills is very real, according to Bloomberg. While the semi-autonomous features in new cars have are designed to be the early steps toward total autonomy, they could very well be causing drivers to put off a little too much responsibility. For example:
A University of Michigan study showed that may already be the case. The school recently conducted research for an automaker concerned with how people are using blind-spot detection systems that alert drivers with chimes and warning lights when another car is in a difficult-to-see area. The study found a significant increase in drivers failing to look over their shoulder to check for themselves when changing lanes.
Different automakers have different safety nets so that people don’t treat their cars as fully autonomous just yet, Bloomberg reports. General Motors will make sure drivers in the new Cadillac models fitted with Super Cruise will watch the road by installing eye-tracking tech. If a driver using Nissan’s ProPilot assist goes more than 30 seconds with their hands off the wheel, the system will keep the car centered and bring it to a stop in its lane. Last year, Tesla limited the driver’s ability to use Autopilot hands-free.
Part of the problem is that all the semi-autonomous tech have different names and capabilities. And, of course, there’s the race to have the first fully autonomous cars accelerating the process. From the story:
Although AAA is urging automakers and regulators to come up with standard terms and parameters for semi-autonomous features, that conflicts with automakers desire to develop and market unique systems and seek an edge over competitors.
Some manufacturers are pushing the boundaries of safety to make their cars appear more advanced, Mark Wakefield, managing director and head of the automotive practice at consultant AlixPartners LLP, said, by fielding systems that allow drivers to keep their hands off the wheel for too long before a chime and dashboard light remind them to take hold again.
Just a friendly reminder to everyone that you should always be paying attention to the road when you’re behind the wheel.
2nd Gear: That Tesla Semi Truck Could Be Autonomous
Taking to Twitter back in April, Elon Musk said that Tesla would unveil a semi-truck in September. It was all part of the Master Plan, you see.
Now, the company intends on potentially testing this new, electric truck in Nevada, according to Reuters. And! It could be able to drive itself, which probably isn’t a great surprise considering it’s from Tesla. From the story:
Tesla Inc is developing a long-haul, electric semi-truck that can drive itself and move in “platoons” that automatically follow a lead vehicle, and is getting closer to testing a prototype, according to an email discussion of potential road tests between the car company and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), seen by Reuters.
Tesla would join other companies like Uber and Google’s Waymo in pursuing autonomy in commercial transport.
Skeptics wonder what a battery pack for such a long-haul vehicle would even look like. “Your cargo essentially becomes the battery,” said lithium ion battery researcher Venkat Viswanathan of Carnegie Mellon University.
Both Tesla and Nevada officials were tight-lipped on further details. It’s all very hush-hush. Guess we’ll just have to wait and find out.
3rd Gear: Rental Car Companies Are Kinda Screwed, Especially Hertz
The plane lands. You collect your bags. You figure out where the rental car desk is. Sometimes you have to take a bus. You wait on a long line. You pay way too much for the car. You go outside to inspect it. Clearly, the car has not known love of any kind. You suffer through a week of driving it and figuring out where to park it.
This is a tiring dance that we’ve all done at least once in our lives. But while rental car companies may have had a monopoly on the industry for a very long time, it seems that their reign could be ending soon, according to Bloomberg. In particular, Hertz and Avis seem to be struggling the most.
See, what if instead of dealing with that garbage rented Corolla, you just take a Lyft or an Uber everywhere? It might even be cheaper for you.
From the story:
Losses at Hertz Global Holdings Inc. are piling up and Avis Budget Group Inc. just dialed back its profit forecast. Investors have paid a heavy price. Problems with rental fleets are one reason. In recent years, Hertz bought more cars than it needs, and it’s been struggling to unload them at decent prices.
Perhaps more troubling, however, is that car-rental companies face the kind of threat that felled Blockbuster, which was undone by new technology in the form of digital video and Netflix Inc. There will always be a market for rental cars, but for a growing number of business customers, and even some casual consumers, they seem like a throwback. Why wait in lines, pick up keys, fill up and drop off, when you can tap an app instead?
Back in May, we reported on Hertz’s bloated inventory. The SUV-craze in the United States is doing it no favors, as Hertz fleets are usually comprised of sedans and economy cars.
Now, with additional competition with companies like Lyft and Uber, the future doesn’t seem too bright for rental car companies. Unless they can change—and change fast.
4th Gear: Actually, The Corolla Won’t Be Built At That New Mexican Factory
Toyota announced in November that its new Mexican plant, Toyota Motor Manufacturing de Guanajuato, would produce the Corolla starting in 2019. It was a one billion-dollar investment and now start date has been pushed back to 2020.
The delay is because Corolla production will no longer take place at TMMGT anymore, reports Reuters. It’s going to America to be built at the new joint Toyota-Mazda plant too.
From the story:
Japan’s top automaker had initially planned to start building the Corolla sedan at the $1 billion Guanajuato plant but said last week it would switch production to a new U.S. factory to be built with Mazda Motor Corp.
Toyota said the delay was necessary to adjust its supply chain in Mexico to produce the truck-based Tacoma pickup model instead of the Corolla compact car. That factory could also build sport utility vehicles, a Toyota spokesman in Mexico said last week.
While the U.S. plant would definitely benefit Mazda, which has no American manufacturing base at the moment, it’s unclear why the Corolla shift is happening at all. The Corolla will always be a decent volume-seller, so this could just be Toyota hedging against NAFTA changes under President Trump. Or, it could be because Toyota wants to minimize the number of vehicle lines at the Guanajuato plant, which would cut costs.
5th Gear: GM’s Ride-Sharing Gig Program Is Expaaaaaanding
Say you wanted to get in on this hot new ride-sharing gig economy, working as a driver, but you don’t have a car. What then? Well, my friend, you’d hit up GM and its Maven Gig Program.
Introduced last year, the app-driven program lets drivers reserve cars and then work as Lyft or Uber drivers (or however else they could make money). Weekly rental rates can range from “$209 for a Chevy Malibu to $229 for the Bolt EV, with the Trax and Impala falling in between,” writes The Detroit News.
So far, Maven Gig operates in San Diego and San Francisco, but GM is expanding soon. From the story:
General Motors Co. is expanding its Maven Gig program ... into Los Angeles immediately and will bring it to Detroit in October.
... Maven Gig will be available in Boston, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. this fall. Maven officials are eyeing Detroit and Baltimore for expansion afterward.
See, guys? There’s even less of a reason to rent a car when you visit these cities now.
Reverse: A Ford Pinto Crashed
Neutral: Has ride-sharing and ride hailing changed the way you travel? Do you find yourself renting cars less and relying on apps to get from place to place more when you’re away from home and don’t have access to a car?