Ohio Senators Going Through Denial, Bargaining Phases of Mourning With GM

Image: AP/John Minchillo (Art by Jason Torchinsky
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Senators want GM to build EVs in Ohio, the Supra’s going to Barrett-Jackson, Audi gets a full-time CEO and much more on The Morning Shift for Thursday, the 13th of December.

1st Gear: Senators Ask GM to Build All US-Market EVs in the U.S., Suggest Converting Ohio Plant to EV Productions 

Ohio senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman have penned a letter to GM’s CEO Mary Barra after a meeting between the three last week. In it, they voice their disappointment that GM is shutting the Lordstown, Ohio plant, and demand answers about the decision’s overall effects to why it can’t be reversed.

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The letter, which you can read here, starts by mentioning how the Lordstown plant has produced high-quality cars, and that it’s got a rich history in Ohio. “We believe this makes Lordstown an excellent candidate for a more competitive vehicle and urge GM to invest in this facility,” the letter goes on, before pointing out GM’s recent investments in plants in Mexico.

The rest of the letter is a series of questions asking for all the reasons why GM is shutting the plant, why it can’t reverse its decision, how many Ohio workers will lose their jobs, and a bunch more. Then the two senators make a suggestion: Why not build EVs in that plant, and why not promise to make all EVs intended for the U.S. market right here in the U.S.?

Referring to GM’s announcement that it plans to crank out lots of electric cars in the next few years, the senators asked: “Does GM expect to produce electric vehicle sedans or will it focus on producing electric SUVs or crossover vehicles?”

“What would be the cost, if any, of retooling the plant to produce an electric vehicle of comparable size to the Chevy Cruze?” After, for some reason, asking how much it cost to build a paint shop at GM’s plant in Mexico, the letter poses this question:

Will you commit to producing in the United States all of GM’s electric vehicles for sale in the United States?

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The senators want answers. And they want them “no later than December 21.”

2nd Gear: The First New Supra Will Be Sold on Jan. 19 At Barrett-Jackson:

Man, has the wait for the new 2020 Supra been long. Too long. But it’ll all be over soon, as the car will debut at the Detroit Auto Show on Jan. 14. As for when the first one will be sold, we knew back in October that Toyota planned to auction it off somewhere, but now we know that the very first one will be sold on Jan. 19 at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, Toyota announced today.

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Toyota says it’ll donate the funds to charity, describing in its press release how that exact car—one that will likely remain a cool part of automotive history—will be outfitted:

This one-of-a-kind Supra will be the first new Supra available in the U.S in more than 20 years and will carry VIN number 20201. It will feature a matte gray exterior with red mirror caps, a red leather interior and matte black wheels. A carbon-fiber badge on the interior will indicate its status as the first 2020 Supra.

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Sadly, this doesn’t mean the car will actually reach an owner on that day, because, as Toyota states in the press release, the car will just a prototype “representative of the actual production vehicle that will be delivered in the first half of 2019.” Someone will own a new Supra. Eventually.

3rd Gear: Audi Interim CEO Brought in After Dieselgate Arrest Becomes Chairman of The Board

In June, Audi made sales executive and Dutch national Abraham Schot its interim CEO after then-Audi CEO Rubert Stadler was arrested in connection with the Dieselgate scandal.

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Now Audi has announced in a press release that Schot will be the permanent Chairman of the Board of Management starting on Jan. 1 of next year, and a number of news sites, including Automotive News, are saying he’s also the permanent CEO.

Automotive News says Audi was hoping for BMW board member Markus Duesmann to take the head Audi role, but apparently the Munich-based company “refused to release Duesmann from his contract,” which lasts until 2020, the news site attributes to German news reports.

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Schot begins his permanent role as Chairman of the Board and, according to Automotive News, of CEO on the first day of 2019.

4th Gear: Toyota’s Pushing a 65,000 Vehicle Airbag Recall Forward by a Year

The Takata airbag situation drags on, with Toyota just announcing that it’s going to re-recall airbags in 65,000 vehicles—a mixture of 2003-2005 Corollas, 2002-2005 Sequoias, 2003-2005 Tundras, and 2002-2005 Lexus SCs—a year before NHTSA’s December 2019 deadline.

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These are Takata airbag inflators that replace faulty also-Takata inflators. Toyota says it had previously recalled the front passenger’s side airbag inflator, and replaced it with a non-desiccated one. Desiccant is a drying agent that reduces the affects of humidity on the airbag inflator’s propellant degradation. Toyota describes in a press release why this is a problem, saying:

A safety defect may arise in the Takata inflators due to propellant degradation occurring after prolonged exposure to high absolute humidity and high temperature cycling. Activation of an inflator with degraded propellant may result in an airbag inflator rupture. If a defective inflator ruptures, it may cause sharp metal fragments to pass through the airbag and spray directly at the driver and passengers, increasing the risk of serious injury or death.

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So, if you’ve got one of those 65,000, expect a letter in the mail in January. And let Toyota replace your car’s passenger’s side airbag with a non-Takata one as soon as possible.

5th Gear: Looks Like FCA’s Minivan Plant in Ontario Will Be Idled For a Bit

FCA’s Windsor plant will take an eight-day break in production instead of just stopping on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, as previously planned, Automotive News attributes to the Unifor Local 444 union.

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The news site mentioned that the company had previously stopped production in January and October to “adjust inventory,” but no reasoning has been giving for the eight-day idle coming up during the week of Dec. 31 and Jan. 7.

Update: Dec. 13, 2018 3PM ET: A Fiat Chrysler spokesperson responded to our inquiry, stating that this all has to do with adjusting for demand:

FCA is confirming that the Windsor Assembly Plant will be down Jan. 2, 3 and 4, and the week of Jan. 7 to align production with demand. Normal production schedules will resume on Jan. 14. 

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Reverse: Airbag Pioneer and Founder of Key Safety Systems Dies at 72

The Automotive Hall of Fame describes Allen K. Breed’s life prior to his passing on Dec. 13, 1999:

In 1968, Breed designed the first electromechanical crash sensor (EMS) for airbag systems. From 1969 to 1984, he carried the latest version of the EMS in his pocket. Convinced of the importance of airbags to passenger safety, Breed testified at congressional hearings about the benefits of his system. By the mid-1980s, he began to receive small orders for the EMS from General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. Finally, in 1984, passive restraint regulations resulted in the large-scale birth of the airbag industry, with BREED Corporation [later named Key Safety Systems] as the only supplier in the world at that time with sensing technology for automotive safety systems.=

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Neutral: Should GM Try To Build Its EV’s Stateside?

How do you think GM should respond to the PR-side of this plant closure situation? Is building EVs in the U.S. a good move, or should the company just run with what’s best for the bottom line?

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This story has been updated with a comment from FCA about the Canada minivan plant closure.

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About the author

David Tracy

Writer, Jalopnik. 1979 Jeep Cherokee Golden Eagle, 1985 Jeep J10, 1948 Willys CJ-2A, 1995 Jeep Cherokee, 1992 Jeep Cherokee auto, 1991 Jeep Cherokee 5spd, 1976 Jeep DJ-5D, totaled 2003 Kia Rio