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: Tesla’s Doing Things Its Own Way When It Comes To The NTSB’s Investigation Of Fatal Model X Crash (Updated)
The National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency whose job it is to figure out the “probable cause of transportation accidents” has been in a bit of a spat with Tesla lately. That’s because the electric car company released some of its findings dealing with a fatal Model X crash last month, alleging that the driver did not respond to vehicle requests to take the wheel. Releasing this information to the public apparently goes against the agency’s “party agreement,” which you can read here.
Now, according to Reuters, Tesla says it decided to withdraw from the agreement so that it won’t be restricted from disseminating information about Autopilot, with the news site writing:
* TESLA SAYS CO WITHDREW FROM PARTY AGREEMENT WITH NTSB BECAUSE IT REQUIRES THAT TESLA NOT RELEASE INFORMATION ABOUT AUTOPILOT TO THE PUBLIC
According to brief, Tesla says that, despite it no longer being a formal party, the company will “continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB.”
A party, as defined by the NTSB, is an organization “whose employees, functions, activities, or products were involved in the accident or incident.” That organization, when granted party status, is there to provide technical expertise during the “fact-finding” phase of an investigation, and not to release its own report until the NTSB is done.
As shown in the party agreement, part of being a “party” means agreeing to provisions in Code Of Federal Regulations 831.13, which says, in part:
However, no information concerning the accident or incident may be released to any person not a party representative to the investigation (including non-party representative employees of the party organization) before initial release by the Safety Board without prior consultation and approval of the [Investigator In Charge].
NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt and Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk had a chat over the phone the other day to smooth things over, but apparently that didn’t stop Tesla from withdrawing as a party member.
This Model X crash comes as the auto industry is in the throes of trying to adopt self-driving technology, and as the public’s trust of autonomous vehicles continues to waver.
I reached out to Tesla to learn more about this decision. Here’s the spokesperson’s full response:
Today, Tesla withdrew from the party agreement with the NTSB because it requires that we not release information about Autopilot to the public, a requirement which we believe fundamentally affects public safety negatively. We believe in transparency, so an agreement that prevents public release of information for over a year is unacceptable. Even though we won’t be a formal party, we will continue to provide technical assistance to the NTSB.
Update: Looks like Tesla didn’t so much “withdraw” from the agreement as much as it was booted out by the NTSB for breaking the rules.
2nd Gear: Does Sergio Marchionne Leaving Set FCA Up For A Merger?
Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat Chrysler, is getting ready to finish up his final year at his post, and that means something is going to change. What exactly? We don’t know, but Bloomberg has presented a number of theories.
The news site quotes former head of Fiat’s archives and professor, Giuseppe Berta, who says: “After he is gone, FCA will have to change, and this opens room for a big transformational deal.”
Yes, mergers. We’re talking about Fiat Chrysler mergers. Again.
A merger with one of the other two in the “Big 2.5,” Ford and GM, could be possible, with Bloomberg saying joining an American automaker could make sense amidst declining U.S. sales and president Trump’s “America First” strategy. Ford, a Fiat Chrysler investor told the news site, might be the better partner, since it’s currently working hard to make major changes in its business strategy.
Perhaps Fiat Chrysler could merge with VW, as the German company tries to make more inroads into the U.S.? Or perhaps merging PSA Group, which is huge in Europe, makes sense? Then again, there’s been a lot of interest among Chinese automakers; what about them?
Honestly, we don’t know going to happen, but if you think it’s fun to image what might, check out the full story, which ends with a quote from a major investor named Emanuele Vizzini: “We see the possibility that, after leaving though the front door, Marchionne could come back through the window as the ‘maestro’ of a bigger group.”
3rd Gear: Lincoln Might Build Up To Five New Vehicles In China
Lincoln’s interested in tapping into the largest car market in the world, China, and amid a looming trade war, it might make sense to build cars locally. That may be why, Reuters reports, the brand plans to build “as many as five new vehicles” in the world’s most populous nation by 2022 according to the news site’s sources “familiar with Ford’s production plans.”
Those sources told Reuters that, around late 2019 or early 2020, Lincoln is planning to build in China the new Aviator as well as replacements for the current MKC crossover and MKZ sedan. In 2021, the sources say, the new Nautilis will go into production, and the following year, a “small coupe-like crossover” will enter the mix.
For its part, Lincoln hasn’t confirmed any of these plans, with a spokesperson telling Reuters simply:
Our localization plans to support the China market are on track and will serve to further drive Lincoln’s growth in China...Beyond that, it would be premature to discuss our future product and production plans or timing.
Regardless of whether it’s those specific five vehicles going into production by those specific dates, there’s no doubt Lincoln is interested in building Chinese-market cars locally. Right now, all of its vehicles sold in the country get shipped over from the U.S., and are subject to a steep percent tariff.
Considering the looming trade war between the U.S. and China, I wouldn’t be surprised if Lincoln were rushing to get those plants ready to crank out some cars.
4th Gear: China’s Not Messin’ Around On Trade
Speaking of the looming trade war, China’s commerce ministry said that the U.S. hadn’t been “sincere” in its dialogue about trade, and that China had no qualms with fighting back if the U.S. gets crazy with tariffs, Reuters reports. This isn’t looking good.
A spokesperson for the ministry, Gao Feng, discussed the statements president Xi Jinping made dealing with lowering import duties, telling reporters:
I hope some people in the U.S do not misjudge the situation...If the United States takes any action to escalate the situation, China will not hesitate to fight back.
The spokesperson from the ministry also communicated frustrations with how the U.S. was handling trade negotiations, saying:
It is not a matter of whether China is willing to participate in the negotiations. It is about the U.S. not showing sincerity at all.
According to Reuters, China’s Global Times wrote that “Washington can either respond sincerely to China’s determination of opening up and launching goodwill interactions” or it can “keep pressuring China with unreasonable demands and escalate trade frictions.”
Things seem to be going well.
5th Gear: Volkswagen’s Internal Struggle To Reform Will Come To A Head On Thursday
Word on the street is that Volkswagen’s CEO Matthias Mueller is on his way out and VW brand chief Herbert Diess is on his way in. But there’s likely a lot more change coming, as Reuters reports that the company’s directors are meeting on Thursday to “discuss a far-reaching shake-up of its structure and leadership.”
The company’s goal for a while now has been to find significant cost savings, and to use those funds to become a world-leader in clean cars and “new mobility services” after the whole Dieselgate scandal. But that hasn’t been going so hot, in part, the news site says, because of labor unions and the state of Lower Saxony, both of which wield a lot of power in the company.
Reuters gives a breakdown of the major players set to face off on Thursday, and the main issues they plan to tackle. This should be interesting.
Reverse: Founder Of British Car Company MG Enters The World
Neutral: A Merger At Last?
Do you think a Fiat Chrysler merger is likely after Marchionne leaves, or is this just chit-chat? If you do think it’s likely, who’s the lucky partner going to be?
Update: First gear of this article has been updated with new information from the NTSB.