The Tesla probe is widening in scope, Renault-Nissan believes it shouldn’t have to pay employees because it isn’t making any money and a company you haven’t thought about in a decade is back in the news for all the wrong reasons. All this and more in The Morning Shift for Wednesday, August 18, 2021.
1st Gear: It Isn’t ‘Full Self-Driving’
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been taking an interest in Autopilot-related Tesla crashes lately, and also looking to clamp down on a number of other fronts as well. On Wednesday, senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward Markey (D-MA) penned a letter addressed to Lina Khan, the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission, asking the body to probe Tesla on statements the company — and Elon Musk in particular — have made regarding what Autopilot can and cannot do. From Reuters:
“Tesla and (CEO) Mr. (Elon) Musk’s repeated overstatements of their vehicle’s capabilities...put Tesla drivers – and all of the traveling public – at risk of serious injury or death,” Senate Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey said in a letter to newly appointed FTC Chair Lina Khan.
“Tesla drivers listen to these claims and believe their vehicles are equipped to drive themselves – with potentially deadly consequences.”
If you’re new around these parts, we’ve been beating this drum for a while here at Jalopnik. Tesla’s Full Self-Driving system doesn’t fully drive itself; it’s a Level 2 driver-assist system just like all the other Level 2 driver-assist systems out there, your BlueCruises and Volvo Highway Pilots and RoadSenses (I made that last one up, but it sounds like it could be a thing, right?).
The problem is when you’re a Twitter celebrity and people worship the ground you walk on and you use language that insinuates your product can do things it actually can’t, those people are inclined to believe you. And when they believe you, they make bad decisions that endanger themselves and everyone around them. I know this is a phenomenally obvious point I’m making, but it bears repeating. And it’s not the first time the federal government has asked these questions.
The NHTSA in 2018 said in a letter to Tesla the company had made “misleading statements” about the safety of its Model 3 and had confused consumers. The agency referred the issue to the FTC to investigate whether Tesla’s statements constituted “unfair or deceptive acts or practices.”
Maybe this time they’ll actually do something about it.
2nd Gear: Surprising No One, Dealers Are Having A Way Better Year
You knew this was coming, even considering chip shortages and supply constraints. People are thirsty for cars, and that’s being reflected in the surging average sales of every dealer, as reflected in Urban Science’s Automotive Franchise Activity Report. From Automotive News:
The average number of new vehicles sold by U.S. dealerships is forecast to increase by more than 100 in 2021 — a significant rebound from throughput in 2020, which was the lowest level for the metric since 2012.
The throughput figure is forecast to be 910 vehicles this year, according to the midyear Automotive Franchise Activity Report released Wednesday by retail consulting firm Urban Science. That would be a jump of 103 vehicles from 2020's average sales of 807 vehicles per store. The last time there was a throughput rebound of around this size was in 2012, when the metric went from 719 to 812 vehicles.
This was expected, but in another sense it’s also kind of mind-blowing. Even in the year of a global pandemic and rampant layoffs, dealers sold about as many cars as they did in 2012. And this year, in the wake of that same pandemic and with supply shortages really having taken effect, the average wasn’t that far off the totals across the end of the previous decade.
3rd Gear: Indian Court Tells Renault-Nissan To Pay Workers A Fair Wage
Nissan is really struggling in India. Because of this, Nissan evidently thinks it’s OK to pay its employees less than half of what they’d earn at a more successful competitor’s factory. On Wednesday, an arbitrator told the company it actually needs to pay people anyway. From Reuters:
Nissan and its union have been locked in an industrial arbitration dispute since July after the two sides failed to reach a mutual agreement over several issues including higher wages. A previous wage agreement expired in March 2019.
A tribunal has ordered Renault-Nissan to pay its 3,542 workers an average of over 7,100 rupees ($96) a month in backdated dues as interim relief, according to an Aug. 16 order seen by Reuters.
The payments, higher than the consortium’s initial offer of $30 a month but lower than the union’s demand of $270, would cost Renault-Nissan about $9.53 million in total.
The arbitrator will continue to hear over 50 other demands by the workers over the coming days, which if agreed to could together cost the company 93% more per worker, Nissan said.
93 percent more per worker! Wow, you really must be shafting people if a court tells you that effectively doubling your employees salaries is the only fair resolution. Nissan says it has “no financial capacity” to meet the demands, and that such an arrangement is unsustainable. That sucks, it really does. But paying humans peanuts is also, arguably, quite unsustainable. For the humans, anyway. Here’s another standout excerpt:
The workers’ demands include higher basic pay, an annual increment of 500 rupees, hike in allowances and insurance cover, and appointing an additional member in assembly lines to cover for workers taking restroom breaks.
“The demands made on the worker for sacrifice for the viability of the company is much more than the sacrifice made by the supervisory and managerial personnel and the directors,” the union said in the filing.
Remember, anytime a company says “we” are making “sacrifices,” take note of who “we” does and does not include.
4th Gear: Dodge Isn’t Taking Your ICE Muscle Cars Away Immediately
I know Stellantis’ pivot to electrification is extremely cringey, I get it. And I know Dodge is the most egregious offender in the group. But Dodge is also in the absolute worst position, because it has to convince the gruff, macho types for whom consumption of gasoline is an identity that an EV Challenger or Charger or whatever can still be fun. It might be impossible, but the brand is going to try because it has no other choice.
Dodge CEO Tim Kuniskis recently discussed navigating this challenge with Muscle Cars & Trucks:
“The reception that I’ve gotten from customers… when you make a big change, there’s going to be people that just aren’t going to follow you, at least initially,” said Kuniskis. “But a lot of those people will return eventually when they see we’re serious, and we’re going to be Dodge first.”
Of course, if some Dodge customers leave because of an electric vehicle, then perhaps new ones will show up for the same reason. Kuniskis and company have been vocal in sharing that electrification can improve the performance of a muscle car, but customers have to be willing to pay for the upgrade.
“Some people won’t follow, it’s just the way it is, but we’re hoping that we can fill that with new people that are coming in,” he said.
He also shared that the existing Dodge muscle won’t vacate the premises immediately upon the arrival of that first EV model:
However, there might be a bit of a grace period for those seeking the Dodge Charger and Challenger generation beyond 2024.
“The new platform comes in 2024,” said Tim. “The new car comes in 2024. We didn’t say that the current cars are going to die in 2024. There might be a little overlap, but you’re not going to have years and years and years of the classic and the new one at the same time.”
Maybe you’ll get a year or two of the old cars on sale next to their replacements. The Challenger and Charger have already persisted with minor refreshes and changes for 150 years or so. If you want one, plan to get it by like 2025. If that’s not enough time, I don’t know what to tell you.
5th Gear: BlackBerry Is Relevant Again
The smartphone maker that owned the market 15 years ago purely because it was the least bad option, then rested on its laurels and dismissed any calls to innovate now makes software called QNX that underpins some automotive systems. Volkswagen and Ford are among BlackBerry’s clients. As it happens, a major flaw has been discovered in QNX. From Reuters:
The warning came after the Canadian company disclosed that its QNX Real Time Operating System (QNX RTOS) has a vulnerability that could allow an attacker to execute an arbitrary code or flood a server with traffic until it crashes or gets paralyzed.
Such vulnerabilities are an ongoing problem in the tech realm, but they’re especially a problem in a vehicle moving at high speed, with one or more occupants inside. This is always the concern when exploits are discovered in cars.
The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said the software is used in a wide range of products and its compromise “could result in a malicious actor gaining control of highly sensitive systems, increasing risk to the Nation’s critical functions”, the CISA said.
Now, neither the government nor BlackBerry have found any case where the flaw has been exploited. Their disclosure of it now hopefully means that a fix is on the way, which you or a dealer will likely have to fix via a software update. Hopefully, this can be done over the air, though every manufacturer has a different way of dealing with these things.
Reverse: The Mini Is Born
The British Motor Corporation launched the original Mini on this day in 1959, 62 years ago. The concept was initially presented in two flavors: the Morris Mini Minor and Austin Seven. In time, that list of aliases would grow to be quite large. From Wikipedia:
Until 1962, the cars appeared in North America and France as the Austin 850 and Morris 850, and in Denmark as the Austin Partner (until 1964) and Morris Mascot (until 1981). It was introduced in Australia as Morris 850 only (not “Austin”), and then later as Morris Cooper and Morris Cooper S versions, as well. The Morris name Mini (Mini-Minor) was first used for Austin’s version by BMC in 1961 when the Austin Seven was rebranded as the Austin Mini, somewhat to the surprise of the Sharp’s Commercials car company (later known as Bond Cars), who had been using the name Minicar for their three-wheeled vehicles since 1949. However, legal action was somehow averted, and BMC used the name “Mini” thereafter.
My head is spinning.
Neutral: Infotainment Systems, Huh?
Last week I drove a Toyota Venza and then one of those “fancy” Camrys with all the TRD paraphernalia to the track, so I could then drive the new GR 86. I loved the GR 86, but I’ll tell you what I didn’t love: the Entune system in those other cars.
Holy hell. I couldn’t get CarPlay to work, so I used the built-in system, which led to a comedy of errors. The search function was woefully bad — I couldn’t find the destination by name, so I had to put in the whole address like I was using a freakin’ Garmin from 2008. The default view was so zoomed out, in was almost like I was gazing at the route from space, making individual turns impossible to see upon approach. And the navigation volume was so quiet it was basically inaudible, and I couldn’t figure out a way to make it louder. Feel free to respond to this by venting about your own infotainment system-related frustrations.