The top boss of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration resigns, car sales in India are bad, Uber and Lyft get called out for having drivers with car recalls on the road, the NHTSA looks into airbags on the Subaru Forester, and emissions rules come for Renault’s budget brand. All of this and more in The Morning Shift for Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019.
It’s official. After reports that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Heidi King would be gone soon, Reuters reports that the Transportation Department announced on Monday that she will step down at the end of the month. King has been the acting administrator of the NHTSA and was nominated to be the head, but has never been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Reuters reports that King’s resignation will happen on Aug. 31 and that the department’s deputy general counsel, James Owens, will take her place. She’s been a big part of the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back tightening Obama-era fuel-economy standards, saying, via Reuters, that existing rules have raised new-car prices and could “discourage consumers from replacing their older car with a newer car that is safer, cleaner and more fuel efficient.”
King was instrumental in the administration’s initiative to draft new fuel efficiency rules through 2026. Rules put in place under Democratic former President Barack Obama called for a fleetwide fuel-efficiency average of 46.7 miles per gallon by 2026, compared with 37 mpg under the Trump administration’s preferred option.
NHTSA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week submitted the second part of the final regulation to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review. The final rule is expected to be finalized within months.
The final rule is expected to bar California, the nation’s most populous state and a trend-setter on environmental protection initiatives, from establishing its own vehicle emissions rules.
There weren’t any details about King’s actual decision to resign, like whether it was her own. But as of last week, reports cited unnamed sources as saying she is not being forced out of her job. King also said in a social-media post: “How do you know when you are working too hard? When your vacation is reported as a career change!”
The automotive industry in India isn’t looking great, with thousands of layoffs and poor sales in what Bloomberg reports to be part of “a broader slowdown in Asia’s third-largest economy.” The slump kind of mirrors what’s happening in a lot of places, including China and the United States.
Car sales in India dropped the most in almost two decades in July, Bloomberg wrote, in a decline that’s in its ninth consecutive month. Car sales dropped 36 percent in July to 122,956 vehicles, while passenger-vehicle numbers dropped 31 percent and truck and bus sales dropped 26 percent. That’s causing production cuts, temporary factory shutdowns and “at least 15,000 job losses” in the auto industry thus far, Bloomberg reports.
The problems are part of a wider economic slump that the government plans to step in and help revitalize, according to Bloomberg. From the story:
The trend mirrors waning consumer confidence in an economy, whose growth has slowed to a five-year low, and where unemployment has risen to a 45-year high. [...]
India is planning measures to stimulate the economy, with an announcement expected this week to boost demand in automobiles and housing sectors, among others, a government official said Friday. That’s expected to add to monetary stimulus provided by the central bank, which has cut interest rates four times this year to boost demand.
Two-wheeler sales — a key indicator for demand in rural India — fell by 17% year-on-year to a little more than 1.5 million units in July. Sales of trucks and buses dropped the most since February 2014.
Bloomberg reports that sales, at least, are expected to improve during India’s festival season that begins next month.
The Center for Auto Safety, an advocacy organization that’s been involved in fights like the one over Hyundai and Kia’s fire risks, announced via an emailed press release on Tuesday that the organization has sent letters to the CEOs of ride-hailing platforms Uber, Lyft, Juno and Via demanding that they remove vehicles with unaddressed recalls from their platforms. The letters can be read here, and center has also has an open petition out about the issue.
The announcement includes a link to a Consumer Reports study from May, which found that there are quite a few recalled vehicles running around on the Uber and Lyft apps. Since vehicles in those fleets are generally owned by drivers, it makes sense.
From the announcement:
Exploding Takata airbag inflators have resulted in at least 24 deaths worldwide, GM ignition switch failures have resulted in at least 170 deaths in the U.S., and hundreds of other less-publicized defects, including vehicles with a propensity for catching fire, pose equally significant threats to public safety. Yet, recent studies from Consumer Reports and others have found concerning numbers of rideshare vehicles with unrepaired recalls on the Uber and Lyft apps.
In May of 2019, Consumer Reports released a study in which they found that one in six vehicles operating on Uber and Lyft in the New York City and Seattle areas had at least one open safety recall.
The center didn’t say what its next move will be if nothing happens, but did remind people to check their recalls online. It’s good advice.
Automotive News reports that the NHTSA, in addition to preparing for a new leader, is looking into the Subaru Forester’s airbag sensor. The agency has gotten 51 complaints about the front-passenger airbag detection system, the story said, and has begun a preliminary evaluation of the 2016 through 2018 models of the vehicle.
Apparently, complaints have said that the models’ detection systems have inaccurately turned off the airbags for the front passenger while the seat was occupied. From the story:
The open evaluation covers an estimated 553,692 vehicles, according to NHTSA.
Subaru of America spokesman Dominick Infante told Automotive News on Monday that there have been no reports of injuries or fatalities related to the issue.
Subaru of America is fully cooperating with NHTSA on the preliminary evaluation, he said.
If you have a Forester from those model years, then, maybe pay extra attention to the airbag lights until further notice.
A Bloomberg story via Automotive News Europe on Tuesday had a good look into Renault’s budget brand, Dacia, and how tightening emissions standards in the European Union could harm its ability to keep costs as low as it’s known to do. Here’s some of what the story talked about, from Bloomberg:
Owned by Renault since 1999, Dacia has been a bright spot for the French automaker. Its cheapest model, which lacks electric windows or a stereo and comes in just two colors, starts at about 8,000 euros ($8,972) in western Europe, less than the baseline offerings from rivals Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA Group. [...]
Dacia has built a devoted following for its often spartan, low-cost vehicles, making it one of Renault’s fastest-growing consumer brands. Yet the unit, which prides itself on its penny-pinching ethos, could now become a drag on Renault as it faces the costly hurdle of meeting the European Union’s toughening pollution standards.
Dacia’s 2018 lineup had more ground to make up before meeting the EU’s 2021 emissions targets than other brands, according to Evercore ISI estimates. Overhauling its models to meet the rules “could disproportionately hurt profitability,” even as Renault as a whole is better positioned than some rivals to meet the regulations, Philippe Houchois, an analyst at Jefferies in London, wrote in a note.
A spokesperson for Renault declined to comment on impacts of the future emissions regulations to Bloomberg, but there’s a lot more on the story here.
Here were some of the reported details, via Space.com:
Air&Space Magazine reports that STS-28 hauled the Satellite Data System spacecraft into orbit; SDS was supposed to relay imagery from other military satellites. The magazine got confirmation on this from an Air Force officer, who was not named in the story.
It probably should—you know, if you get your own recalls done.