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: It Finally Happened
You can’t talk about autonomous driving technology without addressing safety. Safety for the car’s operators, safety for other drivers and safety for pedestrians. Sunday’s fatal crash between an Uber self-driving test car and a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, was the greatest fear of autonomous driving come true.
The Uber crash makes the third officially documented case of a person dying as a result of an autonomous car crash. The first two cases involve Tesla, but Tesla’s fault in those either have been or are still being hotly contested. Yet, critics are quick to point out that the Uber crash is different, according to Bloomberg.
Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Law who studies driverless car regulations, told the publication:
“In Tesla’s Florida crash, the car was purchased by and used by the victim. In the Arizona crash, the vehicle was a test vehicle under the control in every sense by Uber, and the victim was an ordinary person.”
It’s true that none of us get a say in how we die. But before, at least, if you didn’t want to risk getting hurt in an autonomous car, you just wouldn’t get into one. It seems like there will be casualties in this great race to see who will achieve the first fully autonomous car, however. It was only a matter of time.
Will Arizona’s fatal crash shake consumer confidence and set back the progress that’s been made? We’ll find out.
2nd Gear: Hyundai Calling For Safety After Uber Crash
Concern over the Uber crash in Arizona is rippling across the automotive industry, with different automakers taking the opportunity to voice their views. One of them is Hyundai.
Hyundai took this chance to reinforce its own safety priorities, according to Reuters. From the story:
Yoon Sung-hoon, a director at Hyundai Motor, said safety concerns are a big factor in the development of autonomous cars, and as a result the South Korean automaker is “cautious about mass producing self-driving cars.”
“When we evaluated other companies vehicles, they had more relaxed safety standards,” he told reporters, adding that Hyundai is taking more time than rivals to develop autonomous technology to guarantee safety.
“No one knows under what situation accidents will occur.”
Of course safety is a top concern. But anyone who is developing any kind of autonomous tech also talks about the importance of safety.
The truth of the matter is that autonomous cars need plenty of real-world testing in order to truly learn how to respond in all situations. And the problem with that is it increases the risk of danger. It’s a real Catch-22.
3rd Gear: Volkswagen Doubling Down On SUVs For The U.S.
Volkswagen will add another SUV to its American lineup. This is my overjoyed face.
The German automaker will show us a five-passenger SUV concept at the New York Auto Show next week (which Jalopnik will be diligently covering as our duty to you, the dear reader), according to Bloomberg. The SUV will be built at VW’s assembly plant in Tennessee, where it previously has spent $900 million to built the Atlas.
From the story:
The company said it’s investing $340 million more to bring the new SUV to market.
No jobs will be added to produce the additional vehicle, but it should improve job security at the factory, a spokeswoman said by email. The southeastern Tennessee factory, which also assembles Passat sedans, employs about 3,200 workers.
Great, man. Really. Seriously, happy for you. Whatever keeps the lights on.
4th Gear: Meanwhile, In Germany
Meanwhile, VW is still facing some nasty emissions-related probes by the German government back home. Its global headquarters were searched again earlier this month as part of the Dieselgate investigation, reports Reuters.
From the story:
Authorities from the city of Braunschweig searched 13 offices in the nearby VW headquarters in Wolfsburg at the start of March, seizing documents and computer files that will now be reviewed over the next few weeks, WirtschaftsWoche cited a spokesman for the investigators as saying.
The authorities said they were checking a statement issued by VW on Dec. 9, 2015 over suspicions its contents were not correct and whether it therefore represented a case of market manipulation.
VW said in Dec. 2015 that its own investigations found it had understated fuel consumption, and hence CO2 emissions, on no more than 36,000 vehicles. That was much lower than its own preliminary estimate of around 800,000 vehicles disclosed five weeks earlier.
It also said it had found no evidence of unlawful alterations to CO2 emissions data, providing some relief as it battled the fallout from emissions cheating revealed by United States regulators in Sept. 2015.
It’s a slow fight, but we’ll get to the bottom of things eventually. Right?
5th Gear: Ford Thinking About Buying Some New Property
You know the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit? Sure you do. It was that big, empty building in Transformers where Megatron broke through the floor, trying to get the Allspark from Shia LaBeouf. It’s a pretty building, and it has been vacant for decades. Word is that Ford is thinking about buying it.
The rumor comes from the Detroit News, which cites unnamed sources familiar with the matter. Currently, there isn’t any imminent transaction. They said that Ford has been negotiating deals to purchase either the property around the train station and/or the station itself. They expect an official announcement in May.
From the story:
The automaker would locate more future-focused segments of the business in the train station, such as data and analytics teams, or those working on electrification and autonomous vehicles. It already plans to move a 225-person “Team Edison” into a recently redeveloped warehouse in Corktown office space in May. The historic neighborhood has rebounded in the past decade to be one Detroit’s most desirable neighborhoods.
Neither Ford nor Crown Enterprises, the real estate company that owns Michigan Central Depot, would comment on the story.
Reverse: RIP James Packard
James Packard, co-founder of the Packard Motor Company, a pioneering American automaker, dies at the age of 64 on this day in 1928. During Packard’s heyday in the 1930s, its vehicles were driven by movie stars and business titans.
Neutral: Do You Think The Uber Crash Is A Blow To Autonomous Car Development?
Do you think progress will get set back? Or do you think testing will just return to its normal pace, despite this fatality?