Tesla stands by its safety claims despite repeated questions from America’s auto safety regulator, General Motors looks at investing in EV charging infrastructure, Ford recalls some new SUVs and more for The Morning Shift of Thursday, August 8, 2019.
1st Gear: Stand By Your Car
As noted in yesterday’s Morning Shift, Tesla is under fire from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over Tesla’s own claims that the Model 3 “achieved the lowest probability of injury of any vehicle the agency ever tested.”
According to Bloomberg, which broke that story, the feds “said the claims were inconsistent with its advertising guidelines regarding crash ratings and that it would ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether the statements were unfair or deceptive acts.”
Naturally, given its humble nature, Tesla issued a quick mea culpa and acted swiftly to dial down the hyperbolic language. Jokes! We’re in Joke Mode, just now.
No, instead Reuters reports Tesla is, of course, defending its safety claims:
Tesla, led by billionaire Elon Musk, has said the Model 3 “was engineered to be the safest car ever built” with the lowest probability of injury of all vehicles ever tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Regulators challenged that view last year, according to documents seen by Reuters. The NHTSA sent a cease-and-desist letter to Tesla on Oct. 17, for making “misleading statements” over safety ratings of the Model 3.
Saying it was “not the first time” Tesla had disregarded its guidelines in a manner that could confuse consumers and “give Tesla an unfair market advantage,” the agency also referred the issue to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which investigates unfair or deceptive acts within commerce.
Asked for comment on Wednesday, Tesla pointed to its response to the October letter, in which it said its claims were based on NHTSA’s own data.
[...] In its response, Tesla denied it had made the claim that the 5-star rating makes it the “safest vehicle,” rather that Tesla said publicly the car was engineered “to be the safest car ever built.”
Now, Bloomberg reports today that Tesla may face additional scrutiny over its safety claims, seemingly specifically about the Autopilot driver assist system:
The agency has issued at least five subpoenas since April 2018 for information about Tesla vehicle crashes, according to NHTSA correspondence with the electric-car manufacturer released Tuesday by Plainsite. The legal transparency group obtained the documents through a public records request for communications regarding Autopilot.
[...] “I think what this shows is that NHTSA has concerns about Autopilot performance,” Frank Borris, a former director of the Office of Defects Investigation at NHTSA, said after reviewing the documents. He said the subpoenas could mean the agency “is gathering information that would be supportive of a formal investigation.”
NHTSA doesn’t have an active defect probe into Tesla, and the agency may not open one. The regulator declined to comment directly on whether it will, saying in an emailed statement that it’s “committed to rigorous and appropriate safety oversight of the industry and encourages any potential safety issue be reported to NHTSA.”
“Any regulator like NHTSA would be interested in new vehicle technologies and how they make our highways safer,” Tesla said in an emailed statement. “We routinely share information with the agency while also balancing the need to protect customer privacy. Tesla has required subpoenas when customer information is requested in order to protect the privacy of our customers.”
We’ll see where this goes next.
2nd Gear: GM Wants An EV Infrastructure, Doesn’t Want To Pay For It
Muskian bluster aside, I have said many times before that Tesla deserves a great deal of credit for actually investing in a charging infrastructure for its EVs. Most attempts by other automakers to do the same have felt half-assed in comparison.
Now from Automotive News we learn GM wants to do the same. But despite record profits, GM is cutting jobs, closing plants, dialing back shifts and adjusting production schedules, ostensibly to shore up for the next economic downturn, so it doesn’t want to spend its own capital on such a project.
The answer: Spend someone else’s money.
“We don’t wish to spend our capital to build fast chargers,” Mike Ableson, GM’s vice president, electric vehicle charging and infrastructure, said Wednesday at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars. “We wish to spend our capital to build more EVs.”
To solve that challenge, the largest U.S. automaker is partnering with construction firm Bechtel Corp. to build the network and will seek outside investors to fund the project.
Ableson said working with the large construction firm has illustrated that most large infrastructure projects are funded with outside investment.
The Bechtel tie-up on EV chargers is only in the initial stages, and Ableson did not name any potential investors. But he said the companies are “quite confident we can get interest from outside investors.”
We’ll see where it goes, but if GM is truly serious about the EV revolution, it may eventually have to put its own money where its mouth is.
3rd Gear: ‘Market Demand’
Speaking of GM, it’s actually dialing back production of one of its more popular products—the Equinox crossover—in anticipation of some kind of slowdown and to avoid too much inventory on dealer lots. From the Detroit Free Press:
General Motors is making some production changes at two of its assembly plants in North America. Meanwhile, the fate of four U.S. plants slated to shutter remains uncertain, dependent on bargaining talks with the UAW, GM said.
GM is cutting production in Canada and Mexico where it builds the Equinox SUV in anticipation of slowing sales in North America and other markets.
GM will cut its third shift in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, effective next week, a GM spokesman said. Besides the Equinox, GM also builds the GMC Terrain and Chevrolet Trax at San Luis Potosi.
GM will shut down its CAMI plant in Ontario for one week the last week in September.
“Sales of the Equinox are very strong, however, we’re making a production adjustment to run the business in a responsible manner,” said Dan Flores, GM spokesman.
That means better aligning Equinox production to market demand. Flores stopped short of saying GM expects sales to sputter, but he emphasized the importance of not stockpiling too much inventory.
Meanwhile, GM is betting on full-size truck sales to carry the load.
4th Gear: New Karma, Finally
Do you remember Fisker? Do you?
The grinning, coupe-sedan with a hybrid engine and a little bit of a fire problem? It’s finally “back,” soon, as a reborn company called Karma. Thing is, this rebirth has been in the works for something like five years now—we at Jalopnik can’t go a week without getting multiple spy shots in tips (thanks everyone!) of the camo’d Revero running around California somewhere. It’s been in camo mule form so long now we’re beginning to wonder when the actual car will show up. I swear the Toyota Supra had a quicker development cycle.
Anyway, the answer to “When is Karma back?” is “soon”, reports Automotive News. And here’s some details on what the new car will be like:
“The way I like to do it is — we are deeds, not words,” Bob Kruse, Karma Automotive’s chief technology officer, said Wednesday at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars. “We’ve essentially built the whole enterprise, from a supply chain, through manufacturing, through product engineering. We’ve got a retail network, a service network and a system to track it all. On a small scale, we are a complete automotive entity. We can talk about what we’ve done. We can let you drive what we’ve done. We don’t have to make a bunch of promises in a PowerPoint presentation that says, ‘Here’s what we are going to do if we raise money.’”
[...] The 2020 Revero GT, Kruse says, is the company’s core product. While some of the underpinnings can trace their roots to the Fisker Karma of 2012, the new car features a three-cylinder BMW engine that powers a generator providing electricity to two electric motors that drive the rear wheels. The car can travel up to 80 miles on a single charge and around 360 miles on a full charge and full tank of gasoline. The car is expected to cost around $135,000.
A three-cylinder hybrid luxury car that costs $135,000? Sounds a lot like BMW’s own i8, and as cool as that is, I don’t think you can say it set the world on fire.
Maybe the Karma will. At least there’s some precedent there.
5th Gear: Explorer, Aviator Face Recall
Both Ford Motor Company crossovers are brand new, but are facing a recall out of the gate. One more from the Detroit Free Press:
Ford Motor Co. issued a safety alert for the 2020 Explorer and Lincoln Aviator SUVs on Wednesday, noting that the vehicles may be missing a part that keeps the car from moving while parked, “increasing the risk of crash.”
The company, which has touted its two new sport utility vehicles built only in Chicago, as long-awaited flagship products, said in a news release that the vehicles may be missing the manual park release cover, which is not a minor issue.
“Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards require the manual park release cover be in place and only removable with a tool. If the cover is not installed, the manual park release lever may be inadvertently activated, which could result in unintended vehicle movement if the electronic park brake is not applied,” Ford said in its release.
Ford spokeswoman Monique Brentley noted to the Detroit Free Press, “This is a safety compliance recall, vehicles are safe to drive. The majority of affected vehicles are in dealer inventory. The issue will be remedied prior to delivery to customers.”
Reverse: One Year Since ‘Funding Secured’
And as The Verge notes, the lesson here is to never tweet.
Neutral: Is Tesla Too Aggressive On Its Safety Claims?
The Tesla faithful often think they’re in the safest, most high-tech, best-built, cleanest vehicle ever designed, and one that’s also saving the planet because it was designed by a genius. That’s a huge part of the company’s allure. But does Tesla go too far with the safety claims?
I think calling it “Autopilot” was a mistake, and the reason you see so many jackasses taking a nap while their Model S zooms down the highway at 80 mph.