Image: AP/Sarah Burnett

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 as you head out into the wilderness of our ongoing international nightmare.

1st Gear: Lack Of Right To Work Law May Have Lost Illinois The Toyota-Mazda Factory “Bidding War”

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Back in August, the Detroit Free Press wrote about a “national bidding war” taking place among states hoping to lure in Toyota and Mazda’s $1.6 billion joint venture assembly plant.

With an annual production capacity expected to be around 300,000 cars, the facility promises 4,000 jobs by the time it opens in 2021. So naturally, states around the country have been providing the automakers with incentives to win the business, which could be an enormous economic boon.

Unfortunately, one of those states, Illinois, is now out of the “factory sweepstakes” running, Automotive News reports. The news site says the reasons why include a lack of “shovel-ready sites” and the unwillingness of Illinois to adopt “Right To Work” laws.

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Automotive News learned that Illinois is not among the plant’s three final contenders from Mark Peterson, President and CEO of Illinois’ private economic development organization, Intersect Illinois. Peterson told the news site why the state is out of the running, talking about site readiness:

While we showed very well, particularly in the areas of workforce, and our proposal was very well received, in the end the site readiness of some other locations took us out of the consideration set going forward.

He went on, describing what role Right To Work Laws—which allow workers to freely decided whether or not to join a union—factored in, saying:

Recently, we have seen very public searches taking place for HQ and manufacturing facilities...The challenges with these is that although they are public in their media exposure, they are still very protected and confidential when communicating exactly what factors weigh in on final decisions. That said, many national site consultants charged with making recommendations for corporate relocations and expansions will not even consider a state that is not a right-to-work state. In this case, the three states I am told are still in the running are all right-to-work states.

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The story includes further reactions like those of the chief of Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, Greg Baise (who cited the expiration of the Economic Development For A Growing Economy—EDGE—tax incentive as a contributing factor to Toyota and Mazda’s decision) and of John Boyd, New Jersey site-selection consultant (who thinks this might be a turning point for Illinois to start considering Right To Work). Read their full statements in Automotive News’ article.

2nd Gear: Toyota, Mazda and Honda Confirm That Some Kobe Aluminum Parts Are Safe

Japanese metals company Kobe Steel is at the center of a U.S. government investigation after the company revealed that it falsified reports on the strength and quality of its products.

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Those falsely-labeled metals were supplied to over 500 companies around the world, among which, The Nikkei newspaper in Japan reported, were General Motors, Daimler, PSA, Toyota, Nissan, and Honda.

Yesterday, Reuters wrote that three Japanese automakers have confirmed that they’ve found no safety issues associated with Kobe’s aluminum parts, with the news site writing:

Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T), Honda Motor Co (7267.T) and Mazda Motor Co (7261.T) said that hoods and other exterior parts used in their cars which were made from aluminum directly supplied by Kobe Steel were safe.

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The news site writes that this announcement—which yielded a surge in Kobe’s shares—could be a sigh of relief for all companies involved, saying:

While other carmakers including Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) said they were still investigating the issue, the announcements by Toyota, Honda and Mazda suggest that Kobe Steel’s cheating scandal may have a limited impact on product safety.

This whole scandal is still fairly new, so we’ll have to wait before we know the true ramifications of Kobe’s mislabeled metals.

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3rd Gear: Nissan Shuts Down Car Production In Japan For Two Weeks After Finding 34,000 More Cars Were Improperly Inspected

Nissan recalled nearly 1.2 million cars earlier this month after Japan’s Transport Ministry found that uncertified technicians were conducting final inspections at five or six of the company’s assembly plants. Those checks were improperly validated with the stamps of certified technicians, Reuters reported. Nissan’s recall aims to have all of those affected cars—which were built before Sept. 20—re-inspected.

But yesterday, Nissan learned that there was still some improper inspecting going on, with the company saying in a statement:

By October 18, the investigation team (led by a third party) discovered that at its Oppama, Tochigi and the Nissan Kyushu plants, certain parts of the final inspection process were still being carried out by technicians not properly registered to perform those duties for vehicles for the Japan market.

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Nissan says it’s considering re-inspecting the unregistered cars and recalling the registered ones built between Sept. 20 and yesterday, Oct. 18. The company says those re-inspections would cover 34,000 vehicles.

Nissan also announced today—most likely as a result of the aforementioned finding—that it is shutting down all Japanese-market vehicle production at its Nissan and Nissan Shatai plants. In its press release, the company discusses exactly how unqualified individuals ended up conducting final checks, writing:

  • The plants transferred final vehicle inspection check items from the final vehicle inspection line to other lines, such as the “marketability inspection” and the “offline inspection”.
  • As a result, employees who were not internally registered as final vehicle inspectors performed final vehicle inspections.

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Nissan says it’s conducting an investigation to find ways to prevent something like this from ever happening again. Its two-week production halt aims to overhaul its inspection line via the following methods:

  • The final vehicle inspection line will be configured as originally submitted to [The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism], consolidating all final inspection processes.
  • Final inspection process will be separated from other processes and only internally registered final vehicle inspectors will have access to the final inspection line.

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This scandal has gotten pretty nasty, but a production line halt is a huge deal; clearly Nissan is serious about getting this issue fixed.

4th Gear: Toyota Recalls 310,000 Minivans Over A Bit Of Grease That Could Cause Rollaways

Toyota announced yesterday that it’s recalling 310,000 2005 – 2007, 2009 and 2010 Siennas because a bit of grease in the shifter assembly could “transfer to other components” and allow the minivan to shift out of park. If that happens when the driver isn’t on the brake pedal, the car could roll away. Toyota’s press release describes the fix:

For all involved vehicles, Toyota dealers will replace the shift lock solenoid with a new one, remove the grease, and reapply an appropriate amount of grease at no cost to customers. 

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Toyota says it will contact all owners of affected vehicles by the middle of December.

5th Gear: Check Out The Fake City In Pittsburgh That Uber Uses To Test Self-Driving Cars

Earlier this month, Uber published a video showing what looks a lot like a film set for a small city. But of course, a film set it is not; it’s actually a proving grounds for the company’s self-driving vehicle development.

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Business Insider says the site, called Almono, is built where an old steel mill once sat, just along the Monongahela River. The news site mentions some of the features of the 42-acre “fake city,” writing:

It has a giant roundabout, fake cars, and roaming mannequins that jump out into the street without warning. There are even containers meant to simulate buildings, training the cars to operate even when looming structures block their line of sight.

Read the full story to learn more about Almono’s role in Uber’s self-driving car development.

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Reverse: Brilliant GM Engineer And Founder Of DMC John DeLorean Gets Busted

Neutral: Are You In Favor Of Right To Work Laws? Why?