Traffic Deaths Finally Went Down, Barely, for the First Time in Two Years

On a quarterly level, at least. Total fatalities recorded through the first half of 2022 still broke 2021's record.

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Photo: Mark Wilson (Getty Images)

The number of people who died in accidents on American roads over the last few months reduced somewhat but really purely by chance, South Korea and Hyundai are still thinking at length about our new EV tax credit scheme, and Faraday Future’s shareholders are getting litigious. All that and more in this Tuesday edition of The Morning Shift for September 20, 2022.

1st Gear: A Slight Drop

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported Monday that traffic deaths declined slightly in the second quarter of this year. That marks the first drop from a nearly two-decade high that’s been continually rising since the third quarter of 2020. From Bloomberg:

Some 10,590 people died in car crashes from April through June, down 4.9% from the same period in 2021, according to estimates released Monday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fatalities had been increasing since the third quarter of 2020.

“Although it is heartening to see a projected decline in roadway deaths in recent months, the number of people dying on roads in this country remains a crisis,” Ann Carlson, NHTSA’s acting administrator, said in a statement. Carlson recently assumed the role after Steven Cliff stepped down to return to the California Air Resources Board.

The rate of road fatalities during the first half of the year was 1.27 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled, NHTSA said, a slight decline even as people spent more time behind the wheel. Total US driving increased by an average of 2.8%, or about 43.2 billion miles, according to preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration.

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As Bloomberg adds, the total number of deaths through the first half of 2022 is still about half a percent higher than it had been in 2021. There’s more that we could be doing and various avenues available to automakers and the federal government to encourage or force safer driving, but nobody’s really putting in the effort.

The NHTSA’s release about this data yesterday mentions some initiatives, like guidelines for better street design, an objective to require a few additional driver-assists safety features in new cars, and impact guards for trailers, but those don’t seem to drill into the big issues here: drunk driving, lack of seatbelt use, and speeding.

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Cars have more advanced safety features than ever before, but, of course, they can also be turned off. In fact, a lot of that tech may just make us less attentive — not more — behind the wheel. A 2019 study performed by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and published by Triple A laid out theories for why:

Virginia Tech researchers theorize that drivers move through different phases tied to experience using ADAS. First timers start in a novelty phase where they learn and test the technology. These drivers are less inclined to trust the system’s function and reliability, so they remain active and engaged while driving. Eventually, drivers reach an experienced user phase where overreliance and too much trust in the systems becomes more common. These drivers are more apt to take their eyes and attention away from the road. Research in other industries shows that pilots and nuclear technicians demonstrate similar patterns of over-reliance on automated systems. These behaviors can eventually lead to distraction.

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It’s nice to see the number move in the right direction — quarter versus quarter, anyway — but real change requires actual work, and not the kind of work that just makes every car more expensive.

2nd Gear: South Korean President has EVs on the Mind

Yoon Suk-yeol, the president of South Korea, is in town this week for the United Nations General Assembly. Since he’s here anyway, he’ll also take this trip to meet with President Biden and discuss many things — one of which will be the new electric vehicle credit criteria mandated by the Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law in August.

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South Korea’s frustrations with the law have been very public over the past few weeks, and several of the country’s top national security and economic officials have voiced those concerns to their U.S. counterparts, who thus far have offered a very warm, reassuring “we’ll see.” From Reuters:

Speaking in Seoul on Tuesday, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said the IRA “seems to be a violation of the Free Trade Agreement” between the two nations. However, the South Korean government is focusing on bilateral dialogue for now, he said, when answering a lawmaker’s question in parliament.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told his South Korean counterpart Kim Sung-han early this month the IRA would bring “more pluses than minuses” to Korea but promised to review the impact of the new rules.

“It’s structurally quite complicated because it’s already signed into law, but there is a way to go about it,” a senior South Korean official closely involved in the discussions said on condition of anonymity due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.

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South Korea’s position is, of course, that Hyundai has built and pledged to build more factories in the U.S. well before the new regulations were minted, and this is the thanks they’ve gotten. Speaking of which...

3rd Gear: Kia’s Future

South Korean media outlets have reported that Kia is angling to begin U.S. production of EVs in 2024, Reuters also tells us.

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If true, this would be sooner than some predicted. It’s no secret that Hyundai and Kia have been pushing for establishing an American base for EVs, especially ever since the Inflation Reduction Act was passed. They’ll need to get a move on to reinstate the potential $7,500 tax credit for customers as soon as possible. The report doesn’t identify a location or, frankly, give any detailed information, but it tracks, given the concern out of South Korea and the Biden administration’s unwillingness to budge.

4th Gear: Faraday Someday?

Faraday Future employees have been calling on shareholders to force out two key members of the embattled startup’s board. As of Monday, those shareholders have filed a suit against the company seeking the executives’ removal, Reuters reported.

The firm, which is yet to start production of its FF 91 luxury electric vehicle, has been under pressure from FF Top for the removal of executive chairperson Susan Swenson and board member Brian Krolicki.

In a lawsuit filed at the Delaware Court of Chancery on Monday, the shareholder group – which has an over 20% stake in the firm and about 36% voting rights – said that the startup is “suffering from a crisis of leadership at the board level.”

FF Top added that the “current board has driven the company into the ground”.

In a separate filing with the U.S. securities regulator, the shareholder said it had delivered a notice to the company nominating Li Han and Xin (Adam) He as replacements for Swenson and Krolicki.

Last month, several employees of Faraday Future had called on the board and shareholders to remove Swenson alleging that the executive chairperson had organized attempts to “push the company into bankruptcy and restructuring”.

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Production of the FF 91 was recently delayed until the fourth quarter — four years later than the company’s earliest projection.

5th Gear: Stellantis Will Build EVs and Hybrids in Turin

Of course, one day they will do that everywhere. But at the moment, Turin is the focus. Again, Reuters:

Stellantis has chosen Italy’s historic carmaking city of Turin for an investment to boost its role in low emission vehicle production and as a centre for the recycling of cars and their parts.

The Franco-Italian group signed an agreement with its Belgian partner Punch Powertrain to increase production of electrified dual-clutch transmissions (eDCT) for hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles at its Mirafiori plant in Turin, the carmaker said on Tuesday.

Producing and selling more electric and hybrid vehicles is a key plank in plans set out in March by Stellantis Chief Executive Carlos Tavares to double revenue to 300 billion euros ($300 billion) a year by 2030.

Tavares on Tuesday said the group was investing a “double-digit” million euro figure in the gearbox upgrade, without giving a precise figure.

The Mirafiori complex will also become the company’s main hub for itsso called ‘circular economy’ business, focusing on reconditioning and dismantling of vehicles and reusing components, with Tavares seeing a prolonged shortage of raw materials.

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Recycling raw materials is the other plan for the Mirafiori plant — an activity many automakers are coming to terms with now, particularly as metals and many other valuable components appear to remain scarce for the foreseeable future.

Reverse: Out Ran

A port of Yu Suzuki’s arcade racing classic Out Run for the Sega Saturn was released on this day in Japan in 1996, according to MobyGames.

Credit: World of Longplays via YouTube

The Saturn Out Run port trades for a relatively high sum these days, about $80 and up, and is interesting because the first press of the game only works on “Model 1” Saturn hardware — the launch model with the oval-style buttons. The uglier system with the circular buttons — the one I own — won’t boot the game, though Sega eventually reprinted this release to amend that. It’s yet another shining example of Sega’s astute decision making and business sense in the mid-’90s. If you want to play Out Run in its best form today, you ought to snag Sega Ages Out Run on Nintendo Switch. It’s just $4, you have no excuse.

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Neutral: Favorite Fall Drink?

I don’t imbibe in alcohol a ton or even like most drinks, but I’m partial to whisky in hot apple cider. Add some cinnamon sticks, mulling spices, let that shit sit in a crock pot all day and you really can’t go wrong. What’s your autumn indulgence of choice, alcoholic or otherwise? Note that I will not judge you if you say Pumpkin Spice Latte, and frankly anyone that would is no friend of mine.