Photo: Nissan
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An independent Nissan, absurd self-driving valuations, and your favorite car in the world – the Apple car!!!!!!! – is back. All that and more in the Morning Shift for Thursday, April 18, 2019.

1st Gear: Maybe Nissan Will Return to Being Nissan Again Soon?

We’re still dealing with a lot of rumor and allusions to greater concerns involving the case of former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, but the palace intrigue has always hinted at what may have been an aversion by staunch Nissan traditionalists in Japan to what we’ll just call The Great De-Nissanification of Nissan.

You, an avid reader of local car zine Jalopnik, surely know what we’re talking about. The conspiracy theory, such as it is, goes a bit like this:

  • Renault-Nissan head honcho Carlos Ghosn wants his car company to be the biggest car company in the world
  • To do that, under his orders Nissan tries to go mass-market with everything, sacrificing Nissan’s tradition of funky Z cars, Xterras, and GT-Rs for vast, endless rental fleets of Sentras
  • Nissan creeps ever closer to Renault, with the final plan being to just have Renault eventually subsume Nissan entirely, eventually putting Nissan wholly in the control of its French overlords
  • Renault is Nissan! Nissan is Renault!
  • The Nissan traditionalists don’t like this, and eventually get pushed to the point that they have Ghosn whacked

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The story gets even weirder today. A new report from Bloomberg largely points to the traditionalist faction at Nissan getting desperate, and eventually resorting to the government of Japan stepping in to try and prevent Renault (and thus, the government of France, which owns a big chunk of Renault) from completely taking over the Japanese carmaker:

As then-Chairman Carlos Ghosn pushed to strengthen Nissan Motor Co.’s ties with partner Renault SA last year, officials at the Japanese company were working behind the scenes with government officials to defend Nissan’s independence, according to emails seen by Bloomberg.

The efforts by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to head off changes in the two-decade alliance show concern was mounting in top echelons of the Japanese government — months before Ghosn’s arrest on allegations of financial wrongdoing — that his push to cement a new alliance structure, would boost Renault and its largest shareholder, the French state, at Nissan’s expense.

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The story goes on, implying that Nissan officials in Japan were trying to walk a delicate tightrope, on the one hand trying to keep Nissan independent, but on the other hand trying not to arouse too much suspicion from Ghosn and prevent the Japanese government itself from pushing Nissan around.

The whole thing is super weird. Read it here.

2nd Gear: A Possible Explanation for Why the GM Deal with Rivian Fell Through

For a while back in February there were really strong rumors that both Amazon and GM were about to invest in electric pick-up-and-SUV startup Rivian. Then the news broke that indeed, Amazon poured a huge amount of money into Rivian.

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But where was GM?

It turns out that GM did almost invest in Rivian, but the deal fell through. While not providing total catharsis for the people at home desperately waiting for GM to put some money into Rivian(?), Bloomberg has some more on what went wrong:

[Rivian founder R.J.] Scaringe’s grand plan helps explain why talks that would have given GM a stake fell apart. With both consumers and businesses showing interest, Rivian is rebuffing a deal that may have required a level of exclusivity that would have kept it from building vehicles for others.

“In general, my reason for starting Rivian was to do big things without anything preventing us from doing that,” Scaringe said, while declining to discuss talks with GM specifically.

GM and Rivian came close to a deal that could have benefited both companies. GM would have been able to lend engineering and manufacturing expertise. In return, Rivian may have helped the largest U.S. automaker get an electric pickup to market quicker.

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Basically, from the sound of it, Rivian would’ve gotten a ton of money, but it would’ve been a bit of a deal with the devil, hitching the startup’s destiny to the automotive stalwart’s oft-janky management. And while that’s fine here and there, I’m not sure anyone except GM would want to be exclusively tied to GM.

3rd Gear: Lol Sure Okay

Uber’s self-driving unit could be valued at obscene amounts, the Financial Times says:

Uber is closing in on an investment deal with SoftBank’s Vision Fund and other investors that would value its self-driving unit at $7.25bn, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Existing Uber shareholders SoftBank and Toyota, plus the Japanese auto parts supplier Denso, are planning to put $1bn into Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group in return for minority stakes in the unit. The deal was still being negotiated and could fall apart, the people said.

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A self-driving Uber remains the only self-driving car to kill someone, Uber’s self-driving program has been shut down and re-started in the past year alone, and by my own math, Uber must either entirely change its business model or entirely hitch its wagon to self-driving cars for it to stay in business over the next few decades.

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But every day it’s looking more like self-driving cars won’t work.

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This sounds doomed.

4th Gear: The Apple Car Is Back? Maybe?

The Apple Car was on and then it was canceled and then it was on and then it was canceled and... you get the idea.

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But a fresh report from Reuters says that, if the Apple Car isn’t back on entirely, Apple is doing something with self-driving cars:

Apple is seeking lidar units that would be smaller, cheaper and more easily mass produced than current technology, the three people said. The iPhone maker is setting a high bar with demands for a “revolutionary design,” one of the people familiar with the talks said. The people declined to name the companies Apple has approached.

The sensor effort means Apple wants to develop the entire chain of hardware to guide autonomous vehicles and has joined automakers and investors in the race to find winning technologies.

Current lidar systems, including units from Velodyne Inc mounted on Apple’s fleet of self-driving test vehicles, use laser light pulses to render precise images of the environment around the car. But the systems can cost $100,000 and use mechanical parts to sweep the laser scanners across the road.

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Hey, like I said, self-driving cars ain’t gonna work for a long, long time. But if my choices were Uber or Apple, I’m going with Apple’s infinite resources.

5th Gear: New York Auto Show!

The New York International Auto Show is this week! Check out our ongoing coverage here.

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Reverse: Happy 40th

Anthony Denis Davidson, a championship racecar driver from England, was born on this day in 1979. Davidson’s career began in kart racing, where he enjoyed great success

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Neutral: What’s Your Favorite Car From NYIAS?

And why is it a Kia Stinger equipped with Drift Mode?