Not Every GM Vehicle Comes With Airbags, And Its CEO's Reasoning Is Sound

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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: Mary Barra Defends GM’s Lack Of Airbags

General Motors CEO and Chairwoman Mary Barra is at the World Economic Forum, the annual gathering of people that are so-rich-you’ll-puke, in Davos, Switzerland, and she’s responding to a bunch of criticism over the company’s safety record. Not here in the United States, mind you, but elsewhere. You might have heard of some of GM’s safety issues in the U.S. involving ignition switches and fires, but in developing markets the safety issues are much more fundamental.


The company has faced criticism in recent months for not making airbags standard in every single vehicle it sells – the Chevrolet Aveo, for example, doesn’t always have airbags in Latin America. But in an interview with the International Business Times, Barra defended the practice:

Asked about the criticism and pressure on the first day of the conference in Davos, Barra said “we’re constantly looking to make our cars safer on all aspects,” but she appeared to defend GM offering different — and sometimes less effective — safety equipment in some countries.

“In many of those places the technology is available and it’s a customer choice if they want it,” she told International Business Times. “There’s many cases where we are well above standards, but we also have to look at affordability otherwise you cut people out of even having the availability of transportation.”


She went on to say that if safety standards were globalized, safety features around the world would all be made cheaper, and thus would be much easier to offer across the entire GM range. Which is probably true! Global safety standards, instead of the seemingly random hodge-podge we’ve got now which results in garbage laws like the 25-year import rule, would be much better.

But I’m going to go a step further in defending GM’s lack of airbags. Not because I’m a monster (though who isn’t these days???????), but because the economics are sound. One of the biggest health risks, globally, isn’t a lack of airbags, it’s poverty. And one of the biggest factors in escaping poverty, studies have noted, is access to ready transportation.


If you don’t even offer a person the chance to move their way out of poverty, they might never escape it. So if you want to improve safety standards in developing markets, it might not be sufficient to just berate the CEO of GM in the hopes that she’ll make airbags standard everywhere, in all likelihood passing the cost onto consumers.

Standardizing global safety standards, in this case, won’t just bring you the sweet, sweet Renaults you’ve always wanted. It’ll also end up saving lives.


2nd Gear: Volkswagen’s Making Real Progress On Future Dieselgates

We haven’t heard much in the way of solutions to solving Volkswagen’s Dieselgate woes, beyond possible catalytic converters and urea tanks. But it does sound like Volkswagen is making headway when it comes to preventing another Dieselgate from happening, as Bloomberg reports:

Volkswagen AG is changing the way it creates new models by giving developers more responsibility for overseeing a car from concept through the end of production to help prevent another “dieselgate” emissions scandal.

Volkswagen’s namesake brand will give development teams control of a vehicle’s technology, quality and cost for the first time, the company said Wednesday in a statement. That’s a departure from the previous development process, which spread responsibility across layers of committees and funneled final approval through top executives.


One of the most worrying aspects of Dieselgate was how top VW execs could feign ignorance about a crucial part o f huge projects. Part of it was blamed on the executives having too much to handle to worry about details like a car’s very legality. Now that responsibility is codified, and should be easier to pinpoint when things go wrong.

3rd Gear: President Obama Visits Detroit

President Barack Obama visited Detroit and the Detroit Auto Show yesterday, mostly for a victory lap. The American auto industry is selling more cars than ever, and credit where credit is due, he played a large part in preventing its collapse. That being said, not everything is rosy. In nearby Flint, which Obama didn’t visit, the water is full of lead. In Detroit proper, teachers are staging a “sickout” over school funding.


Detroit’s come a long way, but this is one of the weirder victory laps we’ve seen.

4th Gear: Ford Employee Discounts For Everyone (Who Has A Competitive Vehicle)!!!!!


Wanna buy a Ford, but just wish you could get one of those sweet, sweet employee discounts? Now’s your chance, sort of (via Automotive News):

Through the end of February, Ford Motor Co. is letting employees and retirees share their discount on a new car or truck with anyone who has a competitive vehicle, according to a memo distributed to dealers.

It’s rare for automakers to allow employee discounts, which are generally the best incentives available, to be used by anyone other than an immediate family member. Unlike with the short-lived “Friends & Neighbors” promotion that Ford ran in November, buyers must obtain a special code from an employee or retiree, but they could save several thousand dollars more under the new deal.


All you need is a 1995-or-later non-Ford car. Go snag the Fiesta ST you’ve always wanted.

Or don’t. Buy a non-Ford. I don’t care. Whatever makes you happy. You do you, baby. You do you.


5th Gear: European Car Growth Is Slowing

Europe’s auto market has been super-hot lately, which is good for us, as when automakers are doing well they tend to take risks, which means they build cars they really shouldn’t, which is always the best. But Daimler’s CEO and Sentient Mustache Dieter Zetsche told the Wall Street Journal that things might be slowing down a bit soon:

Daimler AG Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche has warned that Europe’s auto sector is set for significantly slower growth this year given sluggish economic activity in the region and concerns about security.

Speaking in his capacity as the head of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, Mr. Zetsche said demand for cars and light trucks is unlikely to be as robust as it was in 2015 when registrations of new passenger cars rose 9.3% in the European Union from the previous year.


The market is still growing, just not as much as it once was. But at least that means we’ve already gotten cars like the Alfa Romeo 4C.

6th Gear: Now Every Diesel Must Go Before The Judge

Speaking of Europeans and diesels, in the wake of Dieselgate pretty much every European carmaker is going to be under the sleepy eye of regulators. First up was Renault, and now it’s Mercedes and Opel’s turn, as Reuters reports:

Renault executives appeared before the panel on Monday after a government probe found that some of its cars had real-world NOx emissions far above those recorded in laboratory tests.

The commission was established by France’s Energy Minister, Segolene Royal, and it is currently testing 100 car models from all major automotive brands to compare on-the-road emissions with regulatory test-bench scores as it looks for any evidence of test rigging.


When all of this is said and done, I propose an engine powered by nothing but the finest cheese in all the land.


Reverse: A Big Day For Toyota, An Even Bigger Day For GM

After more than seven decades as the world’s largest automaker, General Motors (GM) officially loses the title on January 21, 2009, when it announces worldwide sales of 8.36 million cars and trucks in 2008, compared with Toyota’s 8.97 million vehicle sales that same year. However, the news wasn’t all rosy for the Japanese auto giant, which later in 2009 posted its first-ever loss as a public company.


Neutral: Safety standards save lives, but they also make cars more expensive. Mary Barra has made the case for leaving airbags out of some cars, but where do we draw the line? What safety feature would be the first to go when you come to power?

Photo credit: Getty Images

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